South Korean Scientists May Bring Woolly Mammoths Back Through Cloning
In May of 2013, one of the most amazing prehistoric discoveries in recent memory was made on an island off the coast of Russia.
Under the ice, scientists found a 40,000-year-old woolly mammoth with most of its body still intact.
And now, South Korean scientists are debating whether to use the DNA of the animal known as Buttercup to make a clone of a woolly mammoth.
Researchers at biotech firm Sooam aren’t positive that the blood samples have all the necessary requirements for such a procedure (like a complete nucleus), but it’s the ethics of the project causing the most hesitance.
An elephant would have to carry the mammoth for 22 months, and the birthing process could have serious ramifications for the surrogate’s health.
What’s more, there’s a chance the clone would die shortly after its birth.
Dr. Tori Herridge, paleobiologist and mammoth expert at the Natural History Museum, said,
Cloning a mammoth will require you to experiment on probably many, many Asian elephants. I don’t think they are worth it – the reasons just aren’t there.
The clone’s mental stability would be a huge issue as well, particularly the loneliness of its existence because mammoths have been proven to be highly communicative with each other.
It would have to adjust to a new natural environment while spending most of its life in captivity.
Among the very few scientists who have given the project their full support is Scotland’s Sir Ian Wilmut, the man behind Dolly the Sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal.
He said last year,
I think it should be done as long as we can provide great care for the animal. If there are reasonable prospects of them being healthy, we should do it. We can learn a lot about them.
Buttercup’s blood samples have been sent to labs around the world to maximize the search for usable blood cells.
The actual cloning would take several years, but geneticists at Sooam want to begin discussing the ethics of going forward now.
Britain’s Channel 4 will be airing a documentary about Buttercup called “Woolly Mammoth: The Autopsy” beginning Nov. 23.