Scientists splice mammoth genes into unsuspecting elephant

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From left to right: Mastodon, mammoth, gomphothere. Credit: Sergio de la Rosa

The long-time staple of sci-fi films to recreate prehistoric colossi could soon become a reality – with the woolly mammoth now a step closer to once again walking the earth.

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard University, has inserted DNA from the frozen remains of a woolly mammoth into cells taken from a live elephant.

Church used a technique known as Crispr, which allows scientists to edit DNA and alter the elephant genome by adding mammoth genes from a carcass preserved in the Arctic permafrost.

“We made 14 edits in the elephant genome, not changing every bit of each gene. We are testing ideas about cold-resistance genes in cells, not elephants," he told The Sunday Times.

This is the first time mammoth genes have been alive since the creature went extinct 3,000 years ago.

The Asian elephant and the mammoth are more closely related than the African elephant, Church said in a lecture last year.

“We’re assuming that the Asian elephant is basically a mutant [mammoth] that has a problem living at -50C," the Harvard Gazette reported.

Church said the return of the mammoth could restore an important creature to the Arctic's ecosystem. He cited a study that indicated mammoths may have kept the tundra colder.

This could be of particular benefit in an age of global climate change, particularly when an enormous source of the greenhouse gas methane is locked up in permafrost. ®




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