As much as it's been reported our world has entered the ‘sixth mass extinction,’ is it comforting to learn that scientists are experimenting with de-extinction? While the ethical issues may be of concern for some, such is the case with the scientific studies conducted by a Harvard team to create hybrid mammoth-elephant embryos in the next two years.
Brink of Resurrection?
We are told the woolly mammoth once roamed the Earth we now occupy. We obviously have no personal recollection of course since their time came and went some 40,000-plus years ago. However, that may all change, as a Harvard team of geneticists are diligently at work to resurrect that ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of bio-engineering.
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” said Professor George Church. “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.”
This new 21st Century creature, sometimes referred to as a “mammophant” would be partly pachyderm, but with features such as small ears, subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood. The mammoth genes that will be used for these traits will be spliced into the elephant’s DNA using the powerful gene-editing tool, the CRISPR.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) are segments of prokaryotic DNA containing short, repetitive base sequences. Up till now, this procedure has been limited to lower life forms. For instance, the CRISPR has been used to change the biological make-up of mosquitoes so they will not be able to transmit diseases, such as malaria.
Up until now, scientists have only tampered with the cell stage. But now, they are moving forward with actually creating embryos.
“We’re working on ways to evaluate the impact of all these edits and basically trying to establish embryogenesis in the lab,” said Church.
Jurassic Park threat?
Just because we can, should we? Just because science might be able to pull off this monumental feat of genetic engineering, does that mean we should move forward? One fear that comes to mind is that we might be creating a real-life version of Michael Crichton's novel, Jurassic Park? While dinosaurs lived more than 60 million years ago, the woolly mammoth's usable DNA is still available.
It’s been documented there are more than 24,000 threatened species as of 2016, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature database. Not all of them are as cute as pandas or as majestic as the Bengal tiger, but their existence today contributes to keeping the ecosystem in balance.
So your thoughts, readers? Should we recreate the woolly mammoth, or would our efforts be better served if directed towards other species currently threatened by extinction. Weigh in and let us know your thoughts on this ethical and humane issue.