Woolly Mammoth Cloned Within Five Years? We'll Believe It When We Ride It

By Douglas Main | December 6, 2011 5:33 pm

Japan’s Kyodo News reports that Russian and Japanese scientists will start a project early next year to clone the woolly mammoth. The researchers also confirmed that a well-preserved mammoth thigh bone found in August contains remarkably well-preserved marrow cells.

The team, including researchers from a Siberian mammoth museum and Japan’s Kinki University, plan to extract an undamaged nucleus from the extinct animal’s bone marrow and insert it into the egg of an African elephant, a related animal; if all goes well the elephant could then give birth to a baby mammoth. The team has worked toward cloning the beast for more than a decade but until August, hadn’t found a sufficiently intact source of mammoth DNA (although they did create a copy of mammoth hemoglobin).

What could possibly go wrong? Assuming scientists can extract an undamaged nuclei from tissue that’s been frozen for more than 10,000 years, they then need to successfully insert it into an African elephant’s egg. This won’t be simple, considering that even procuring elephant ova is a challenge, said Japanese researcher Akira Iritani. And the cloning success rate for (non-extinct) animals like cattle is only 30 percent. The cloning technique Iritani plans to use is also relatively new; it was developed three years ago by researcher Teruhiko Wakayama to clone a mouse using cells that had been frozen for 16 years.

Even if the initial embryo is cloned successfully, it must gestate within the body of an African elephant for more than one year (which has obviously never been attempted before). Then, if it’s born, it must survive. This didn’t work out so well for the recently extinct Pyrenean ibex, which was brought back to life in 2009 using 10-year-old DNA from the animal’s skin. Unfortunately, the newborn cloned ibex died within minutes of its birth due to breathing difficulties.

But if the mammoth clone can survive, we’re all for it. Unless it doesn’t particularly appreciate being brought back to life just as the Earth warms anew.

Despite all these obstacles, Iritani says a cloned mammoth is likely within the next five years. But those putting money on it beg to differ. As The Scientist points out:

Consummate gamblers were quick to add their two cents. Not long after the announcement, Irish betting company Paddy Power began taking bets on whether the ice age giants can be cloned within 5 years. Short-term odds are gloomy, with 8:1 against a cloned wooly mammoth by 2014 and only 5:2 for a 2017-2018 finish date.

[Kyodo News, Via The Mainichi Daily News]

Image credit: endolith / Flickr

  • Anonymous

    Whether or not it is successfull we ought to give it a try.

    Of course- there will be some questions regarding whether it is truly “mammoth”.- the Mitochondrial DNA will be elephant- it will be exposed to the birthing and society of elephant.

    It will certainly be a lot closer to any Wooly Mammoth than we have alive today- but will it truly be a Wooly Mammoth?

    I don’t have enough knowledge to say whether they will succeed- but I sure hope they do.

  • Anonymous

    No easy task, but the rewards would definitely be worth the effort. Think about it: if our primitive ancestors were willing to take one of those beasts down with nothing more than a bunch of pointy sticks then they must be delicious.

  • Wolftrail34

    Well, once they get one, they can get another and another untill a breeding population can be established..once that is completed, they will eventually be almost entirely Mammoth..

    • Anonymous

      Mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mother to offspring and does not exist within the nucleus of a cell. The only way to get Mammoth MDNA into the population would be to use a different kind of cloning process.

  • Anonymous

    Just wait for the first nondomesticated alphamale homosapiens, that will be fun. 20000 years of war … again.

  • http://profiles.google.com/mikkaworks MikkaWorks Organics

    This is just pointless, we are running out of land for wild animals and they want to introduce new(old) ones.

  • Heidihale61

    I hope they succeed because I would really like to see a woly mammoth in my life time … But I have heard that woly mammoths are much larger than elephants and if that is true I don’t think the elephant will be able to carry a woly mammoth?

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