September 17, 2021
Some researchers believe that wooly mammoths, and other extinct arctic giant animals (called megafauna), played an important role in the preservation of the arctic tundra. Due to their size, and constant wanderings, it is proposed these animals may have helped compact snow and maintain permafrost. Sadly, permafrost in the Artic is currently in decline as the Earth warms due to the climate crisis, and some scientists are thinking of out of the box ways to help give the permafrost a chance.
A team of scientists have been given $15 million to help ‘resurrect’ the wooly mammoth. Because the mammoth DNA that has been discovered to date is degraded, the scientists will not be able to truly clone the mammoths, it will take a creative approach. They are proposing using DNA from the wooly mammoths closest living relative: the Asian elephant. Using genomics tools, they suggest making tweaks to the DNA of the elephants to create an animal with traits which will allow them to thrive in the arctic, such a thick insulating fat, thick hair, and small ears. Importantly, the team plans to ensure the animals do not grow tusks, as they are cognizant of the risk of ivory poachers. (It is worth noting that these new animals wouldn’t truly be wooly mammoths, but rather heavily modified and hairy Asian elephants.) Apart from resurrecting the mammoth, this could advance technology of reintroducing important genes back into genomes of currently endangered species.
This idea isn’t without its critics, and not just those who saw Jurassic Park. There are ethical implications of using Asian elephants as surrogates for these newly created ‘mammoths’, should they use the surrogacy route, rather than an artificial womb. Asian elephants carry their babies in utero for up to 22 months, and given they are an endangered species, do we really have time to experiment, when instead we could be boosting elephant numbers? There is also no guarantee that even if these new animals can thrive in the arctic that they will physically improve the environment, as this idea is an unproven theory. Is it ethical to resurrect these animals thousands of years after they went extinct and return them to a modern environment? If they are as intelligent as Asian elephants, what will their social needs be? Given elephant calves learn so much from their herd, how will these ‘mammoth’ calves learn to survive in the Artic without the wisdom of their herd?
Thankfully, given the research team suggest that baby ‘mammoths’ are at least four to six years away, there is still time for some of these ethical conundrums to be resolved.
Source: CTV News
Read more: https://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/scientists-receive-us-15-million-to-resurrect-woolly-mammoth-1.5583826