The Woolly Mammoth could be revived after scientists place DNA into elephant’s genetic code.

They have spliced DNA from the ancient animals into living elephant cells, opening up the possibility to bring them back from extinction. Over 3,000 years after the mammoth went extinct, Harvard scientists have replicated the genes that make them different from elephants – their hairiness, bigger ears and fat beneath their skin – and successfully inserted them into an elephant’s code.

Because mammoths are closely related to Asian Elephants, they did not need to fully create a new cell. The new technique was used by George Church, a Harvard Professor of genetics, which essentially allows scientists to copy and paste certain elements of code when making specific edits to the DNA.

Last Mammoth on Earth

The last of the species lived on an island in the Arctic Ocean, which may explain the need for such a thick coat and extra fat, this is also where the scientists took genes from for the experiment. Mammoth cells are easier to find than other animals of a similar time, because many of the remains have been buried in permafrost, preserving them much like a freezer would.

This collection has led to debate as to whether the mammoth could be revived through cloning and whether it would be ethically correct to do so, especially when the cloning procedure could involve experimenting on many living elephants.

Dr Tori Herridge, an expert in mammoth anatomy from the Natural History Museum asked “whether or not the justifications for cloning a mammoth are worth the suffering, the concerns of keeping an elephant in captivity, experimenting on her, making her go through a 22-month pregnancy, to potentially give birth to something which won’t live, or carry something which could be damaging to her. And all of those aspects … I don’t think that they are worth it; the reasons just aren’t there.”

Woolly Mammoth Clone

Although it would be a spectacle to witness or behold and a metaphorical flexing of scientific muscle to meet the challenge of reviving an extinct beast, it is hard to justify a counter-argument to Dr Herridge’s worries. If it were to be the key to unlocking many more scientific breakthroughs, or in some way beneficial and healing for humans and or mother-nature, then perhaps the ends would justify the means. However, if it were to be actually cloned rather than only experiments on its genetic code, it would seem to be merely a scientific exhibition with little gain in terms of practical uses.

Professor Alex Greenwood, an ancient DNA expert would no doubt agree with Dr Herridge. He suggests that time and resources would be better spent on preventing animals from becoming wiped out in the first place, rather than reviving them from extinction. He said: “We face the potential extinction of African and Asian elephants. Why bring back another elephantid from extinction when we cannot even keep the ones that are not extinct around?” He added: “What is the message? We can be as irresponsible with the environment as we want. Then we’ll just clone things back?”

For more information on DNA or DNA testing please visit our Learning centre or explore this website to find out more about how DNA testing can be used to benefit you, such as DNA paternity testing, DNA complex relationship testing and DNA testing for legal purposes (also known as court-approved DNA testing) and DNA ancestry testing.