Jurassic Park is one of my favorite movies of all time and while the concept behind it continues to exist in the realms of science fiction, scientists are inching closer to the threshold of de-extinction. And the newest candidate for the process is the Wooly Mammoth who lived in the Pliocene and into the Pleistocene Epochs.
De-extinction is basically what it sounds like—bringing an extinct creature back from the dead (that sort of makes them sound like zombies, doesn’t it?). This would obviously be accomplished through cloning of DNA since the creature would be, well, extinct. Which means you need DNA from somewhere.
In 2013, an exceptionally well-preserved Wooly Mammoth was found in Siberia, still frozen in the permafrost. Nicknamed Buttercup, this mammoth was remarkably complete with three legs, most of the body, part of the head and the trunk preserved. Scientists reported that a dark red liquid oozed out of the animal. Chemical analysis concluded it was blood.
Very recently (March, 2015), scientists from Harvard announced they have isolated Wooly Mammoth DNA and have spliced it into elephant cells. While the study hasn’t been peer reviewed or published yet, the geneticists say this is just the first step in bring back these creatures. Eventually, they may grow the hybrid cells in an artificial womb (it’s considered unethical to try to grow it in an elephant womb). So it will probably be a while before we have a Pleistocene Park where Wooly Mammoths lumber around.
Believe it or not, the de-extinction thing has been tried before. In 2003, geneticists succeeded in bringing back the Pyrenean Ibex (extinct since 2000) through cloning. Unfortunately, the cloned animal lived for only 7 minutes.
One of the things I loved most about Jurassic Park is the idea behind it. Imagine meeting a creature that no human being on earth has previously laid eyes on. You might call it the final frontier of sorts. A frontier that no one is actually sure we can explore.
What do you think? Should we be trying to reverse extinction? Are we ignorant of the potential consequences of de-extinction? Or is it our ecological responsibility to try and bring back these animals?
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