Waking (and Cloning?) Baby Mammoths

By Sam Lowry | April 22, 2009 4:34 pm

3630_waking_the_baby_mammoth-7_04700300.JPGThe 2007 discovery of a perfectly preserved, 40,000 year-old baby mammoth raised hopes that the animal’s high-quality DNA could lead to a revival of the species via cloning.

This week, an elaborately produced documentary from National Geographic Channel traces the path of the baby mammoth (“Lyuba”) from discovery in Siberia to analysis in Russia and Japan, as scientists try to piece together the details of its life and death.

Narrated by erstwhile Alias dad Victor Garber, the show makes impressive use of CGI animation and reenactments using the real-life participants to tell the story.

Globetrotting University of Michigan paleontologist Dr. Dan Fisher travels to Siberia to meet the reindeer herdsman who stumbled upon the mammoth and then to Japan to CT scan the find.  He later performs investigative surgery and forensic dentistry on Lyuba.  Along the way, he makes several breakthrough mammoth discoveries, including that baby mammoths ate their mothers’ feces(!).

Things only get dicey when the producers call on Dr. Fisher to “act” alongside the CGI.

So what about the cloning?

Despite teasing the possibility in the promotion of the show, the producers ultimately admit that cloning is still a remote possibility. While Lyuba’s DNA is the best preserved sample ever discovered, according to Fisher, “Cloning an animal as complex as a mammoth is far beyond our current technical capabilities, but there has been remarkable progress on various aspects of the problem. One day perhaps.”

Here at Discover, we’ll keep working on the dino-chicken.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biology, Genetics

Comments (18)

Links to this Post

  1. Mamut Liuba : El Rastreador de Noticias | July 5, 2010
  1. angela

    Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should….Isn’t that a quote straight out of Jurassic Park? Anyway, It doesn’t make the quote any less relevant…

  2. Grant H

    @ angela: Why not?

    I think we could make ambiguous arguments against bringing them back. But is there any real definite reason why we shouldn’t?

  3. Emily B

    I think its a great idea. We could learn so much about their development and what genes are turned on and off and when. There is a great possibility for collecting info on the evolution of proteins, receptors, enzymes, etc. My only qualm is if people want to try to bring back the mammoths and keep them in zoos and the like. It needs to be scientific research strictly so that we can be sure that they won’t suffer unnecessarily.

  4. luca

    How much we could learn from their development that we can’t learn from elephant embryos? Not that these are the easiest animal labs. there’s a reason why we user rats and mices.

    I think to bring Mammoths back to life would be a nice idea, although with global warming ongoing we may find out that what was the syberian wasteland may turn into a grain basket coveted by humans. So we may end up not having a place to let them roam free. Mars, perhaps, like in Stephen Baxter’s novel(s)?

    I also wonder how mammoth meat steak like.

  5. Jo

    Why not do it? Cloning a 40,000 year old mammoth would be amazingly cool — and it’s a realistically achievable (if difficult) first step before we attempt to resurrect other, even older specimens and species in the future. To assume that we couldn’t learn anything from a live mammoth that we don’t know from remains or elephants? How much can we really say about the behaviour of an extinct animal?

    Seeing preserved remains and CGI animations is great. Seeing the real thing is AWESOME. Hell yeah, we’ll do it because we can!

  6. Mia M

    I’m with Jo! What an amazing find – and to be able to actually see it for ourselves is incredible.

  7. Jaap

    It’s not a matter of should we clone it or not, it’s a matter of when. Cloning this animal is like going back with a timemachine and learning real life how these creatures lived. If not for science than for the fun or glory!

  8. The problem with the cloning idea is that, generally speaking, larger molecules tend to be less stable over time than smaller molecules.

    DNA is a huge molecule and it breaks down very quickly, geologically speaking.

  9. Mike

    We are still working in the dark ages. This will all change as time and knowledge/technology advances. What was impossible yesterday (heavier-than-air machines will never fly), is common practice today. What is impossible today (cloning, other-than-oil energy) will be commonplace tomorrow.

    Just be patient… T-Rex, the Mammoths, Pterosaurs, they’ll all be there.

  10. J.Stedman

    Another theory-
    With the dragon skeltons they found in the frozen ice cave, i believe they should try to clone them. ?

  11. Stephen

    The article says it is beyond our technology to clone this mammoth. But could it work if a process were used like with Dolly but use the egg of African or Indian Elephant to create the mammoth embryo and then implant the embryo into a female elephant to carry the mammoth to term?

    Baby elephants eat the dung of adult elephants to establish enzymes they need for digesting vegetation. A cloned mammoth would not inherit anything from its previous generation except DNA since it separated from its previous generation by 40,000. That might make the milk found in the stomach of the baby important if they did try to clone it.

    Maybe the mammoth would have a better chance of surviving if it were could raised by captive Indian Elephants and if it turned out that they had similar immune systems the mammoth might acquire into its body the organismd it needs survive in the world today.

    Unless we find we find more Mammoths DNA there will only be one carbon copy mammoth unless they started inbreeding so there realty could not be herds because there would be no genetic diversity.

    As humans we are very inconsistent in the respect and sacredness we give to different living things whether it be a cockroach, a cow, or a mammoth. If we did try to clone a mammoth it would consistent with the existing ethics we live by. It would seem sad and cruel and become very unpopular if baby mammoth died, was unhealthy or seemed unhappy.

  12. Tyler

    We would learn a whole lot more from a cloned and alive mamouth rather than a dead one whether it be just the one or hundreds to restart the speices. CLONE LYUBA… WHY NOT! its a great idea.

  13. Chris

    we should bring back mammoths and other exstinct animals so that we can learn from there species and ensure that life goes on aswell, “life will find a way” quote from jurassic park. but let’s leave the dangerouse dinosaurs as they are “exstinct” no one needs a t-rex running loose.

    and as for stephen i would step on a cockroach, and i do eat beef.

    it would be amazing to see a mammoth alive and well.

    totally off subject:

    humans are flawed in many ways we destroy what we create and we create to destroy what others created.

    it’s human nature to look for answers and ask questions even if there is no answer.

    we kill to survive and survive to try to create a better world for future generations but we fail when wars are started and destroy to bring peace to the countries at war.

    how can we accomplish anything if we destroy what can be fixed?

    if humans can coexist with everything around them and not destroy everything just to create what will one day be destroyed either by natural desasters or humans.
    one day we all will be destroyed if we keep going down this turbulant path of destruction.

    either we learn from the mistakes we have been making or we die from our mistakes.

    we all have our own beliefs but i dont see too many people around the world believing that we humans can change the world to better ourselves and the future generations of all species of the world including humans.

  14. Mo

    Hi Everyone

    Cloning sounds fun and seeing such a thing with our own eyes (instead of pictures) sounds good, but I think there was a reason why nature has made that species extinct!

  15. Suzie


    It quite possibly could have humans that put the mammoth down–so why not right our wrong?

    Everyone else,
    Anyway, I think it’s a pipe-dream. There are a lot of species-specific epigenetic factors tied to development that it’s seriously doubtful that signaling between an elephant mother and a mammoth fetus could be ‘sensical’ and sufficient enough for it actually carry through the entire term. But you never know, there are the mules and ligers–but it’s important to remember that these animals can’t produce viable offspring. Even if we can get an elephant-mammoth cross, the chances of the cross-generation being fertile are next to nil.

  16. Aurie Milner

    look every-one just because there has been amazing scientifical break throughs to do with cloning personaly i feel we should think of all of the points of view. On one hand it would be increadable to see dinosaurs,mamoths and every other speices of prehistoric creatures yet would they really be able to survive in our morden sociaty they wouldn’t have a life outside of zoo’s and theame parks how would that be fair?
    They might not even be able to breath in our atmosphere! is it fair to spend thousands maybe millions of pounds trying to bring back animals only to find out they die the second there born? we should all be working on preventing the extiction of the animals that already exist on our amazing planet instead of playing god.
    Aurie age 13

  17. Dan

    First off shut the hell up abou the Jurassic park movies as it and it’s quotes are irrelevent to real world cloning. We could learn so much from cloning a mammoth bringing back recently extinct species would become possible


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