When it comes to bringing extinct animals to life, mammoth are the best candidate for this challenge. This time scientists are seriously planning to bring mammoths back to the ecosystem, however, they are not going to use cloning which is one of the major technologies suitable for such a project.
An ambitious plan of geneticists
The group of scientists who are going to work on the project on recreating mammoths is the team of geneticists working for the Colossal company whose leader is George Church working in the Harvard School of Medicine.
The exact species the scientists would like to bring to life is woolly mammoth. This mammoth got extinct 4000 years ago. It is important to understand that the geneticists are planning to create not just a couple of mammoths for the sake of research. Their plan is to create an entire population of these ancient animals which they hope will be able to live in the real ecosystem.
The technology behind the project
A potential way of recreating extinct animals is cloning. According to many researchers, while it is impossible to clone such ancient animals as dinosaurs because of their genetic code being too damaged and incomplete, the species in the cold areas of our planet were preserved in the ice a way better. As a result, the genetic code of some animals, especially mammoths is almost complete.
Still, there are missing parts in the code which have to be filled in an artificial way. As you can imagine, the process of filling the missing parts is too creative and it will not allow a new animal to be the exact copy of extinct mammoths.
The technology which the scientists of Colossal are planning to use is based on genome editing. With this method, scientists hope to get a hybrid rather than a clone of woolly mammoth.
For this purpose they are going to take the DNA of the remains of mammoths found in ice. The DNA of this animal has 99.6% of the code equal to the code of Asiatic elephant. The amount of genes of mammoth which will be used in the project is only 0.4%. The rest will be taken from Asiatic elephant. According to the researchers, such an amount is enough to make a new animal look like a mammoth.
The project of Colossal has already got financial support from investors. The company has received 15 million dollars for the realisation of the plan.
What is the purpose of creating a hybrid of mammoth and Asiatic elephant?
As it has already been mentioned, the scientists are planning to create an entire population of such animals. This project is supposed to be a solution to two different ecological problems.
What the scientists actually want to achieve is preserving the genetic code of Asiatic elephants which are almost extinct now as well. At the same time, they hope their hybrids of mammoth and elephant will be able to improve the fragile ecosystem of Arctic tundra.
What will exactly an animal hybrid look like?
According to the estimations of the researchers, they will need to programme up to 50 changes in the genetic code. This is required in order to construct a species which will be able to successfully survive under the conditions of Arctic tundra. For example, the feature the scientists are going to add to their animal is a 10-centimetre layer of fat which will protect the animal against cold. Another protective feature is being covered with five types of hair for extra warmth. On top of that, geneticists want to decrease the size of the animal which will make it easier for the one to endure cold temperatures as well.
There is also another crucial change in the genetic code. The scientists are going to construct the hybrid in such a way as it will be able to make do without canine teeth. This is crucial since this part of the body of elephants is one of the reasons they are massively killed by poaches.
Ethical problems concerning the project
Certainly, any plans of scientists including creating new species or cloning raise a lot of ethical awareness. When it comes to the project of the team of Colossal, one of the major ethical concerns is the need to use other elephants for carrying the hybrid embryos. Unfortunately, this is a serious intrusion into the bodies of animals and the impact of that cannot be predicted.
On the one hand, people are trying to save a whole population of the animals. On the other hand, this will cause sufferings to the individual animals of this population. As with any research on animals conducted for the sake of their population, in practice, the result is satisfying our needs while real representatives of animals are suffering while participating in such projects.
Apart from the ethical concerns about creating such a hybrid of animals, there are also other concerns. Mainly, it is rather difficult to predict how such ecosystems will exists with a newly arrived animal. Unfortunately, the history of animal transportation to new locations of the world, has a great number of examples when it actually put an ecosystem under a serious threat.