(Newser via USA Today) – This whole nostalgia thing is getting out of control because scientists are about to bring back the woolly mammoth, the Guardian reports.
Harvard professor George Church—who New Scientist calls a “maverick geneticist”—is leading a “de-extinction” team that says it’s about two years away from creating a hybrid embryo combining mammoth traits with Asian elephant DNA.
Woolly mammoths went extinct about 4,000 years ago due to human hunting and warming temperatures. But in the past few years, Church and his team have managed to splice 45 mammoth edits into Asian elephant DNA, including ones that control for a mammoth’s shaggy hair, small ears, fat layers, and more.
While Church and his team believe they can have a “mammophant” embryo in two years, it will be much longer before anyone sees one in the wild. The team wants to grow mammophants completely in a lab in order to not mess with the reproduction of endangered Asian elephants, and that technology doesn’t exist yet.
But if his team succeeds, Church says it could do a lot more than gives zoos a neat new exhibit. He tells NBC News that releasing a herd of mammophants into the Arctic could fight climate change by keeping the tundra from thawing.
“They will punch down the snow in wintertime allowing cold air to come in,” Church explains. (Alaska’s woolly mammoths likely died of thirst.)
Top: Model of a wooly mammoth at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, Canada. Photo: History.com
SOURCE: USA Today content partner Newser’s Michael Harthorne