With the effects of global warming revealing more and more well-preserved Mammoth remains under the Siberian permafrost, the possibility of cloning a Mammoth seems closer than ever.
At least one team of scientists are analysing Mammoth tissue samples for whole cells with intact nuclei, to provide sufficient DNA needed to clone this extinct species. This procedure would be similar to that famously used to clone Dolly the sheep the first cloned mammal.
Crucially, though, there is an abundant supply of sheep living in Scotland to provide calls and surrogate mothers to whereas the mammoth has been extinct for about 4,000 years. DNA degrades over time, even in perfect lab conditions, so finding a completely intact genome (a species’ entire DNA sequence) is extremely unlikely. However, gaps in one individual’s genome could be patched up with sequence from another’s partial sequence, however this would be a painstaking and probably error-ridden process.
The Mammoth’s closest living relative is the Asian elephant, which could be used to attempt to produce a viable embryo with the patched-up Mammoth DNA and bring the baby Mammoth to term, probably around 2 years later, which is an elephant’s typical gestation period.
The ethical questions surrounding this type of “de-extinction” cloning, focuses on the effort and resources needed to bring an extinct species back, when so many extant species are already on the brink of extinction, and the possibility that this technology could be used to bring back other human species, such as Neanderthals.
More information can be found in the recent National Geographic “Reviving Extinct Species” special.