woolly mammoth
Credits: Wikipedia

Long, long ago, before humans brought technology and messed everything up, the woolly mammoth ruled the land. Or maybe, others ruled it, but the woolly mammoth were still pretty huge — pun intended. A team of Harvard researchers is now attempting to bring them back by using some deft genetic engineering. And as impossible as the task sounds, they are already pretty far along the road.

The researchers presented their progress report at the yearly meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Professor George Church, who is leading the effort, talked about how his team was deploying the CRISPR Car-9 gene editing technology to combine genes for mammoth traits with the genome of the good old elephants that are still around.  The aim here is to grant the gray elephant, which we see in forests, Zoos and sometimes on the roads (depending upon where you live), traits from its larger predecessors. Traits that include long hair, another layer of fat that fits right under the skin and so on.

Apparently, the researchers hope to reach a groundbreaking stage within a couple of years — a stage that will allow them to construct an artificial embryo for a mammoth like elephant.  To be clear, the creation of an embryo will not lead to a woolly mammoth, at least not instantaneously. It might be many more years before researchers can reverse the ravages of time and get the woolly mammoth to take its first steps upon the earth again. However, they are slowly getting there.

For now though, the team is conducting experiments to see the effects of the genetic engineering upon the organism at the different stages of its development. They started out with a study of cells and soon, will move on to the embryonic stage and from there, well, where they go from there is a matter of debate.

There are a lot of ethical concerns being raised in respect to what it means to resurrect a long dead species. I mean the earth didn’t suit them, that is why they left right? However, the research (besides being incredibly exciting) has a lot of other reasons to keep it going. For example, the team said that the research could help power the drive to preserve the the Asian elephant, which is an endangered species. This because the woolly mammoth and the Asian elephant are closely related — minus the fur, the fat and a few other attributes of course.

Science, oh you amazing, amazing thing.

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