The Resurrection of Woolly Mammoths

Kooper Sutherland, Author

The Woolly Mammoth once walked the earth thousands of years ago, but it might not be too long before we see it roaming the planet again. Colossal, a biosciences and genetics company, plans to genetically resurrect the extinct beast using DNA extracted from ancient carcasses. Although this technique could be useful, the Director of Research at the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, Jim Mead, isn’t convinced bringing back the species is a good idea. “So, here this animal with, let’s face it, a lot of feelings, and it’s being brought up in an environment that it’s never been in before. The mammoth environment, everything those mammoths lived in whether it was down in Mexico or clear up in the Antarctic, or over in Eurasia, those environments are gone. So I’m not sure the ethical side of it is there, but the concept is very intriguing,” stated Mead.

Mead said we wouldn’t really be bringing back the mammoth as the extracted DNA would be mixed with that of an Asian Elephant. “We’re really bringing back part of a mammoth. If you take a horse and a burrow you get a mule and in some ways, what we would be doing is some sort of mammoth mule, if you will,” said Mead. There are several pros and cons to bringing back the Woolly Mammoth, mostly related to helping or hurting climate change, but Mead stated that elephants are highly intelligent and sensitive creatures, and there comes a point where the experiment becomes unethical. “Instead, we could focus on endangered species still roaming the earth.”

Flush with a 15 million dollar Infusion of funding, Harvard University genetics professor George Church, known for his pioneering work in genome sequencing and gene splicing, hopes the company can usher in an era when mammoth‘s “walk the Arctic tundra again.” He and other researchers also hope that a revived species can play a role in combating climate change. To be sure, what’s being proposed is actually a hybrid created using a gene editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 To splice bits of DNA recovered from frozen Mammoth specimens into that of an Asian elephant, the Mammoth closest living relative. The resulting animal, known as a “mammoths”, would look, and presumably behave, much like a woolly mammoth. 

Church and others believe that resurrecting the mammoth would plug a hole in the ecosystem left by their decline about 10,000 years ago. The largest mammoths stood more than 10 feet at the shoulder and are believed to have weighed as much as 15 tons. Mammoth’s once scraped away layers of snow so that the cold air could reach the soil and maintain the permafrost. After they disappeared, the accumulated snow, with its insulating properties, meant the permafrost began to warm, releasing greenhouse gases, Church and others contend. They argue that returning mammoth‘s, or at least hybrids that would fill the same ecological niche, to the Arctic could reverse that trend. But even if the researchers at Colossal can bring back mammoths, and that is not certain, the question among experts is still valid. Should they?