Biologists are saying they may be able to clone a woolly mammoth from bone marrow extracted from a well-preserved thigh bone recovered from permafrost soil in Siberia. The thigh bone found in August came from a mammoth that died 23,000 years ago.
A team of Russian scientists from Sakha Republic mammoth museum and Japan's Kinki University have decided to do joint research on the possibility of bringing the giant ice age mammal back to life. The scientists will be using modern nuclei transplant techniques in their project. Mammoths, according to experts, have been extinct for 5,000 to 10,000 years.
According to Daily Mail, the scientists plan to replace the nuclei of egg cells from an elephant with nuclei material taken from the marrow cells of the mammoth thigh bone. The scientists believe that with this procedure, they might be able to produce embryos with mammoth DNA which may be implanted into a female elephant for gestation. AFP reports scientists expect the procedure to succeed because elephants and mammoths are closely related species.
Fox News reports the initiative to bring mammoths back from extinction was conceived in the 1990s, but scientists were unable to proceed because they could not find mammoth bones with undamaged genetic material. The new discovery in August has opened way for the project.
Scientists had faced other technical challenges in the the bid to resurrect the mammoth. In the 19990s when the idea was first conceived, scientists were uncertain of how to safely extract DNA from frozen tissue till, in 2008, Dr. Teruhiko Wakayama successfully cloned a mouse that had been in deep freeze for 16 years.
Scientists believe that implanting an elephant egg with mammoth genes will work because they have obtained results from other animals. According to Huffington Post, Iritani citing the example of cattle, said:
"The success rate in the cloning of cattle was poor until recently, but now stands at about 30 percent. I think we have a reasonable chance of success and a healthy mammoth could be born in four or five years."
The process is expected to take up to five years because it may take two years to successfully impregnate a female animal, and it is expected that gestation will last 600 days.
The scientists are already thinking of the ramifications of their work. Professor Iritani said:
"If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed it and whether to display it to the public. After the mammoth is born, we'll examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors."
Mammoths are like elephants, but significantly bigger, at between 10-12 feet tall and 6- 8 tons in weight. Scientists believe mammoths went extinct due to a combination of climate change, human hunting activity and possibly disease.
Global warming facilitated discovery of the bones by thawing ground in eastern Russia that is usually frozen all year round.