We could just be two years away from seeing a “mammophant”.
Having successfully extracted sequenceable DNA from a pair of Woolly Mammoth carcasses dug out from Siberia’s permafrost in 2014, a team of Harvard researchers have now disclosed, they are tantalizingly close to cloning the extinct animal.
The Harvard researchers made the claim just two weeks ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting scheduled to take place this week.
According to their estimate, they are just two years away from creating a living hybrid embryo. The way they have worked it to take a modern day asian elephant embryo, splice in DNA from the Woolly Mamoth, and bingo, a “mammophant,” is born.
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” said George Church, a Harvard Professor. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.”
As yet, the researchers haven’t crossed the cellular stage in creating the mammophant, although they have managed to splice in as many as forty five mammoth genes.
Within a few years, the researchers expect to move past the embryonic stage so as yet, we are still a few years away from seeing the birth of a mammophant.
The hybridizing technique used by the researchers could come in handy, since the Asian elephant is itself endangered, so naturally they don’t want to endanger Asian elephants by making it carry the mammophant fetus to term. As a result, the Harvard researchers are now looking for gestating it in an artificial womb.
This is where things are getting delayed.
Although the researchers led by Church have managed to grow a mouse in an artificial womb for ten days, which is 50% of its gestation period, the technology for growing an animals the size of an elephant fetus is at least a decade away.
Even if the technology was readily available, there would still be ethical arguments opposing the research efforts.
So let’s hope all those hand-wringing ethical arguments are exhausted by the time the technology matures so that extinct species can be given a new breath of life.