Further progress has been made by a team of Japanese scientists in the research around the possibility of ‘de-extincting’ the woolly mammoth. The northerly cousin of today’s elephant roamed the tundra and planes of the northern hemisphere until sometime around 4000 years ago. Climate change and the growth of the human populations who hunted them led to the species to extinction.
A team of Japanese scientists has been working on examining the activity of cell structures recovered from the remains of a 28,000-year-old mammoth discovered in the Siberian permafrost. Cell structures were implanted into mouse eggs to discover if the cell dynamics suggested the DNA could be ‘regrown’ by cells dividing and multiplying. While that did not happen, the team, whose research has recently been published in the Scientific Reports journal, did observe several instances of the kind of biological reactions that take place before that happens.
If cell activity can be recreated there is a reasonable chance that future biotechnology develops will mean mammoths could be practically ‘de-extincted’. There is particular hope that the mammoth could be the first extinct animal to be recovered because of its genetic proximity to modern day elephants. Eventually, if less damaged cell samples can be found in permafrost, quickly developing biotech techniques are likely to mean these could be implanted into elephant eggs with elephant surrogates carrying mammoth embryos to birth.
Other scientists and research teams have also focused their efforts on exploring if the mammoth could be brought back into existence. Harvard has a woolly mammoth revival team with one of its participants, George Church, famously remarking in 2017 that he was not only convinced that the mammoth could be ‘de-extincted’ but that it might happen ‘within two years’.
That has proven to be a very optimistic forecast. Kei Miyamoto, a lecturer at Kindai University in western Japan and part of the research team, was careful to insist that while their work had shown some interesting results and promise they were currently very far away from being able to recreate a mammoth. But, given the progress that has already been made exploring the science behind potential routes to doing so, and the pace of modern biotechnology develops, we may well see a live mammoth again within a couple of decades! Now that would be the star attraction at a wildlife park or nature reserve!