I hope you're wearing your best running heels, because the scientists over at Harvard are cooking up something big in the lab. The woolly mammoth has been extinct for 4,000 years, but the prehistoric mammal may again roam the earth thanks to the terrifying wonders of modern science.
While it will most likely take another decade before they're literally up and running, Professor George Church of Harvard told The Guardian he was confident his team would have a viable embryo within two years. The creation would be a mixture of woolly mammoth and Asian elephant DNA— or as he calls it, a "mammophant".
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Life Finds A Way
According to Church, the mammophant would be "more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits". Unlike the big-eared Asian elephant which normally occupies hot climates, the new species would be engineered to suit an Arctic climate with a thick coat of fur and small ears. It would also be able to withstand chilly temperatures thanks to its "cold-adapted blood."
The Asian elephant is the woolly mammoth's closest living relative. Thanks to modern gene splicing technology, scientists will be able to mix and match DNA from both species, creating a tailored hybrid— which is scarily reminiscent of Jurassic World's Indominus Rex.
Before you get excited, no, Harvard aren't opening a Prehistoric Park. This woolly mammoth hybrid is apparently an attempt to boost Asian elephant numbers with a hardy new species, as the Asian elephant population is dwindling due to poaching and habitat loss.
Scientists also hope that introducing the mammophant to the Arctic tundra will help to curb the effect of global warming. Naturally-occurring greenhouse gases that become trapped in permafrost are being released at a higher rate than ever thanks to warmer global temperatures.
While woolly mammoths do produce a high amount of greenhouse gases themselves, Church believes their habits will also help to counteract the release of methane:
"They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in. In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow."
Isn't This Dangerous?
If I've learned anything from playing hundreds of hours of Skyrim, it's that mammoths are an alchemist's worst nightmare. Considering a genetic scientist is the closest thing we have to an alchemist in the real world, Harvard had better hope there's some capable warriors around to defend them from their own creation.
Horrible video game references aside, there are a number of ethical implications involved when bringing an ancient species back from extinction and introducing it to the modern world. Church says his team plan on gestating the hybrid embryos inside an artificial uterus rather than a real female elephant, in order to minimize potential harm to endangered Asian elephants. With such low numbers, the last thing that species needs is to suffer the effect of a science experiment gone wrong.
However, this method raises further issues. Being raised with no maternal presence whatsoever — even in utero — is bound to have a damaging social effect on any animal. Not to mention there's no way we can predict how this animal will fit in with other species.
In an interview with The Mirror, naturalist David Attenborough admitted the prospect was highly concerning:
"Where’s it going to find a mate? What’s it going to do? We’ve got quite enough problems saving the species we’ve got without bringing old ones back."
Attenborough makes a good point— and he's not the only one concerned about the plight of the pre-existing Asian elephants:
Do you think it's a bad idea for scientists to create a hybrid woolly mammoth?