Scientists a step closer to "bringing back" mammoths
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Could an animal that has gone extinct make a comeback? Maybe.
Scientists are getting their best look yet at the DNA code for the woolly mammoth. It's thanks to work that could be a step toward bringing back the extinct beast. DNA determines what traits a living organism will have.
Researchers deciphered the complete DNA code, or genomes, of two mammoths. The new genomes are far more refined than a previous one announced. That was in 2008.
One new genome comes from a mammoth that lived about 45,000 years ago. Its home was in northeastern Siberia. The other comes from a creature that lived about 4,300 years ago. It lived on Russia's Wrangel Island. That is inside the Arctic Circle.
The results were announced in a paper released by the journal Current Biology. The DNA was extracted from a tooth and a sample of soft tissue.
Woolly mammoths were about as big as modern African elephants. They sported long curved tusks and thick hairy coats. They are the best-known species of mammoth. The information comes from frozen and often well-preserved carcasses. Those mammoths have been found in Siberia.
The Wrangel Island population was the last of the creatures to go extinct. Some scientists have suggested that mammoths could be created anew through genetic engineering. Not everybody favors the idea.
Love Dalen works with the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. He is an author of the new study. Dalen said re-creating mammoths is not a goal of his research team. He also said it's "very uncertain" that it's even possible.
Still, he wrote in an email, "Our genomes bring us one critical step closer to re-creating a mammoth."
"I think it would be cool if it could be done, but I'm not sure it should be done."
There are some ethical drawbacks. He said one of them is that elephants would be used as surrogate mothers. The elephants would carry the genetically engineered mammoth embryos. That species mismatch might lead to problems. Those could cause the mothers to suffer, he said.
Hendrik Poinar of Canada's McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, is another author of the study. He said the new work "gives us at least a blueprint to work from."
Poinar said mammoths could be a welcome addition if re-introduced to the wild. But if they were made just for exhibition at zoos, "I don't see any good in that at all."
Critical thinking challenge: Why were mammoth's wooly?