We have the technology; we can resurrect them!

By Razib Khan | November 20, 2008 1:18 pm

Wooly_Mammoth-RBC.jpgRegenerating a Mammoth for $10 Million:

If the genome of an extinct species can be reconstructed, biologists can work out the exact DNA differences with the genome of its nearest living relative. There are talks on how to modify the DNA in an elephant’s egg so that after each round of changes it would progressively resemble the DNA in a mammoth egg. The final-stage egg could then be brought to term in an elephant mother, and mammoths might once again roam the Siberian steppes.
The same would be technically possible with Neanderthals, whose full genome is expected to be recovered shortly, but there would be several ethical issues in modifying modern human DNA to that of another human species.

In the age of $700 billion dollar bailouts, what’s $10 million to bring back megafauna? By the way, a pygmy mammoth survived on Wrangel Island until 3,650 years ago, as late as the end of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom

  • VJBinCT

    Definitely yes. It would hardly buy a couple 30-second Superbowl spots. BTW, I recommend the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, excellent literary spoofs in an alternate universe Britain where re-constituted mammoths migrate freely (by law) and dodos are a popular pet. Utterly charming novels.

  • http://observationsofanerd.blogspot.com Christie

    Tell me you’re not excited about ‘Pleistocene Park’ becoming a reality – go on, I dare you. Saber tooth tigers, mammoths – I’d pay anything to see that! I so hope they really do clone a mammoth. Ethics be damned!

  • http://fountain.blogspot.com Ross

    Mammoths would be good to bring back, especially if the $10 million figure is correct (which I don’t really believe). I bet they taste fantastic.
    Not so sure about Neanderthals, wouldn’t they be sitting ducks for diseases which humans have developed immunities to over the course of thousands of years?

  • Marc

    I agree with Christie. Screw morality, I want to meet a Neanderthal! Actually, given that our species might have had a hand in their extinction, you could argue that we have a moral responsibility to ressurect the species. Hopefully they won’t form special interest groups and demand reparations.

  • Ben

    I don’t think resurrecting a Mammoth has to be as scientifically superfluous as a mars landing – we can test our knowledge in two ways: 1. can we do it? and 2. how good are our predictions about Mammoth behaviour based on behaviour genetics or palaeoontology?
    Possibly also 3. will we drive them extinct or will climate change?

  • Travis Fisher

    Yeah, the ethics are a bit complicated when it comes to Neanderthals. But for the mammoths, I think it would be terrific if for once we managed to un-extinct (de-extinct? reinstantiate? unextinguish? ressurect?) a species. A tiny token compared to the huge stream of species we are driving to extinction every year, but a terrific symbolic effort nevertheless.

  • http://www.muirmaid.net HelenBakagin

    How are they sure that a mammoth could be incubated in an elephant’s body? Doesn’t fetal development depend to some degree on corresponding correct response from the mother’s body? What if the elephant’s incubation is not “in sync” with a mammoth’s development cycle?

  • jim

    Hey we could resurrect the Neanderthals and use them as a slave class. We wouldn’t even have to feel bad about it since they aren’t human. They’d be way better than trained monkeys!

  • ChrisitanK

    How much value would a Mammoth bring to a commercial zoo?
    Biologicial projects like that have the nice characteristic to become cheaper as time goes bye. Maybe in a few years the price becomes low enough to make it possible for private industry to make a profit by resurrecting the mammoth.
    PR campaigns also cost millions.

  • dearieme

    A pygmy mammoth seems to miss the point.

  • brooks


    Hey we could resurrect the Neanderthals and use them as a slave class. We wouldn’t even have to feel bad about it since they aren’t human. They’d be way better than trained monkeys!

    yeesh! you’re obviously no kantian, then.

    How are they sure that a mammoth could be incubated in an elephant’s body?

    asian elephants are pretty close relatives. it’d probably hatch a mammoth just fine. (but we’ll hardly know till we try.)

  • tom bri

    Please please please! I have been waiting for this to come about for years. Mammoths!
    I have a mastodon tooth my Grandfather dug up somewhere. When he passed away it was tossed into a box of “junk” and almost thrown out.
    Neanderthals? Sure, why not? Be fun. But I am guessing their social instincts might be pretty different from ours. To do just one would be cruel. Have to do a whole breeding population and find somewhere for them to live by themselves, if that was what they wanted to do.
    There are a lot of fairly recently extinct animals and plants we should be thinking of bringing back if we can. Maybe not dire wolves though….except for a few zoo specimens!

  • Josh

    Just to nitpick… I believe you meant that mammoths lived there until 1650 BCE, or 3650 years ago. Certainly the Egyptian middle kingdom did not extend in the the thirtieth millenium BCE…
    Now, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to release mammoths in the wild—it would probably be terrible for the ecosystem. But “cloning” a mammoth and having one to study would be incredible! Of course, there are issues. The prenatal environment would be totally different, which would probably lead to a weird mammoth…

  • DK

    No, we do NOT have technology for introducing many mutations in the genomic DNA. Right now it is done by homologous recombination – and this is very inefficient process with illegitimate recombination (at random sites) occuring at a rate 100-100X higher. So Jaenisch is absolutely right: it is “a wishful-thinking experiment with no realistic chance for success.”

  • http://observationsofanerd.blogspot.com Christie

    hee hee, my first comment ended up on the front page…
    I could see how resurrecting Neanderthals opens a ethical can of worms… at best. Are they human? Well, it would be one way to find out… I mean, we can guess all we want from bones as to their level of communication, intelligence, etc… but it would be much easier to see in a live one. Besides, what’s going to hunt the mammoths we’re going to release in Siberia? I mean, we gotta recreate the whole ecosystem, right? :)

  • Sinuhe

    And when I finally get to sleep, I dream in Technicolors
    I see creatures come back from the Ice Age
    Alive and being fed inside a zoo cage
    Crash Test Dummies, “In The Days of the Caveman

  • Ian

    It sure would be nice if we could sequence the DNA of those extant species we’re currently driving to extinction and keep them going instead. As nice as it would be to see live mammoths again, they’re going to look pretty lonely if everything else is extinct.

  • Eric j. Johnson

    DK, then how come Church thinks otherwise? Also, when i used homologous recomb in bacteria (to do a KO), my PI mentioned the possibility of illegit recomb, but we had no way to automatically screen such recombinants out, ergo they cant have a 100-1000x advantage in the taxa i used – are eukaryotes different?

  • Eric j. Johnson

    Hmmm, a human haploid genome is 1000x longer than a large bacterial genome; i guess that alone would mean 1000x more chances for illegit recombination, ceteres paribus.

  • http://tai-haku.blogspot.com/ tai haku

    Yes, we should try once the technology catches up (not yet – but at the rate of developments surely soon) for so many reasons but most importantly because 3 months ago I bet a friend $20 it would be done successfully in the next fifty years!


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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