Why We Should Clone Woolly Mammoths

Adult_Woolly_MammothIt’s entirely possible that the ability to clone a woolly mammoth will become a reality in the not-so-distant future. Scientists have already sequenced 70% of the woolly mammoth genome (find the Nature article here) and the remaining 30% will surely be sequenced soon owing to the discovery of new, well-preserved mammoth specimens. After patching up the missing DNA chunks with DNA from African elephants, we’ll be able to use African elephants as surrogate mothers to bring woolly mammoths back a planet that hasn’t known them for ten thousand years.

There is a lot of debate over whether or not we should bring woolly mammoths back.  In my opinion, bringing these and other extinct animals back to life could do a lot of good.

Cloning a woolly mammoth will require an extensive amount of funding.  I don’t suspect that the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the National Institute of Health (NIH) will be chomping at the bit to fund this sort of research, so private investors will have to step up to the plate.

Such a high profile project  is sure to attract the attention of private investors, who will undoubtedly identify the one could monetize the hell out of a cloned woolly mammoth. Imagine how much people would pay to see such a thing! Surely investors will see dollar signs and fund the cloning research.

A woolly mammoth preserved in permafrost

A woolly mammoth preserved in permafrost

Investors would mainly be interested in the production of clones, but their money would have to be spent on basic research as well. Previous cloning attempts have produced short-lived animals that quickly succumb to tumors, diseases, etc.  In order to solve this major problem, part of the money that investor’s provide would necessarily fund basic research in fields as diverse as development biology, genetics, epigenetics, immunology, and microbiology. The results of these studies would be applicable to numerous species, not just woolly mammoths.

The percentage of submitted projects that are funded by NSF and NIH is pretty darn low. A sexy and exciting project like cloning woolly mammoths would undoubtedly tap into previously unexploited private funding resources, bringing millions of dollars into biology labs across the country.


20 thoughts on “Why We Should Clone Woolly Mammoths

  1. While I’m totally down for cloning a woolly mammoth, we’re quite a long ways off from creating a cloned mammoth. As you mention, there are plenty of problems with some of the mammalian clones that have been produced from organisms living today. In these experiments, it’s possible to choose a specific somatic cell (for instance, one as undifferentiated as possible) for nuclear transfer and easy reprogramming of the embryo.

    An embryo of a current close relative may or may not be capable of reprogramming a mammoth nucleus, have compatible mitochondria and transcription factor expression, etc. Cloning with more distantly related nuclei/embryos has been done. But the state of the DNA is the issue here. Instead of getting to choose an ideal somatic cell, it would be basically a spliced together library from a ton of source cells that have differentiated down different paths. It would be a mess on an epigenetic level due to chromatin status, gene silencing, etc.

    But I’m still down for funneling whatever funding towards such a project. Even if it’s never completed (beyond the typical ‘horrible abomination’ level), I think there is tons to learn in the process.

  2. That baby mammoth is Lyuba! I had an interview with Dan Fischer, a scientist who worked with Lyuba and put his opinion into how much physical autopsy there should be on her. It’s awesome, and I think we should bring them back when the gene is sequenced. At least once, what’s the worst that can happen with trying?

  3. Well, I think that the worst that could happen (because of the complications mentioned in my last post) would be bad press when initial attempts result in some pretty freaky creatures. Press that might slow further archaeobiology research. The epigenetic aspects of gene regulation (like histone methylation, acetylation, etc) don’t just carry over when you cut and paste genomic fragments together from a variety of somatic cell sources.

    The difference between elephant and mammoth might be almost entirely in these features, and not in the DNA sequence itself. Our own genomes, for example, are around 99% identical to that of chimpanzees. What makes us who we are is largely gene regulation related. If we’re hoping for nuclear reprogramming of mammoth DNA by an elephant embryo (if it can even reprogram these recombinant genomes), what we end up with might be an awful lot more like an elephant than the actual woolly mammoth.

    So, I think at this point the most important work would be analyzing the genome’s open reading frames and seeing if there are any possible proteins that were unique to the animal.

    For the dream of a full, living mammoth clone I think we are going to need a full set of intact chromosomes. This is probably wishful thinking, though. Would be neat. 🙂

  4. it sounds like investment will come only so those who are funding the project can capitalize on the clone later. that hardly seems ethical.

  5. Woolly mammoths were actually alive up until 1000 years ago on some small island. I forget which one; i think it was a temperate climate

  6. Interesting. I hadn’t heard that, but apparently it is Wrangel Island you’re talking about. And it was up until 1700 BC, so 4,000-ish years ago, and a dwarfed variation of the mammoth? Cool.

    As far as people only investing to capitalize on the product: yeah, it’s kinda twisted. Is it any different from science funding in general, though?

  7. hey yeah,,,,,,,,, i reckon it would be pretty cool but if you look and do some extra reachearch it would take years and years of passing through manny different generations time after time to produce the dominate alle and even then what could go wrong it could become a mega monster canorvior then were in troble aren’t we……………………<3

  8. ohk, so let’s put you in a zoo for your whole life and let people pay for you.

    no thanks. gone for a reason. why don’t we concentrate on something with reason, like a cure for cancer or diabetes?

    many deformed mammoths will be created and will suffer from disease and deformity
    this is merely just another selfish human act, for money.

  9. I think they should be cloned. Even if we come up with something more like an elephant than a mammoth, cross-breeding different clones would probably get us closer to mammoth as time goes by. Why should we do it? because then we just might be able to start reversing some of the damage we’ve done to earth’s ecosystems and bring back animals like the Yangtze dolphin or the passenger pigeon as well as rescue creatures on the brink of vanishing.

  10. so u are saying that we are going to create an animal that we can see every where or are they only going to be in one place

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