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Scientist lays out plans to revive woolly mammoths from DNA cells

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 31st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

While reviving the Ice Age's woolly mammoth to the present day with DNA remains a high scientific fantasy for some, there are special considerations that need to be addressed. Will the mammoth brought into the 21st Century be well taken care for? Will he enough to eat? Will he have a large enough icy environment? Will he or she have a mammoth of the opposite sex to begin a nest with?

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "I think it should be done as long as we can provide great care for the animal," Sir Ian Wilmut, the Edinburgh-based stem-cell scientist responsible for Dolly the Sheep says. "If there are reasonable prospects of them being healthy, we should do it. We can learn a lot about them," he added.
 
Wilmut has outlined how cells plucked from frozen woolly mammoth carcasses might one day help resurrect the ancient beasts.

While it is highly unlikely that a mammoth could be cloned in the same way as Dolly, more modern techniques that convert tissue cells into stem cells could do that.


"I've always been very skeptical about the whole idea, but it dawned on me that if you could clear the first hurdle of getting viable cells from mammoths, you might be able to do something useful and interesting," Wilmut is reported as saying in an article.


Woolly mammoths roamed the Earth tens of thousands of years ago in a period called the late Pleistocene. Their numbers began to fall in North America and on mainland Eurasia about 10,000 years ago. Some lived on for a further 6,000 years. Hunting and environmental change drove the pachyderms into extinction.


Raising mammoths from the dead, evoking "Jurassic Park" has gathered steam in recent years as the number of frozen bodies recovered from the Siberian permafrost has risen. Increased interest in these bygone beasts is for a simple reason -- there is money in the ancient remains.


The most complete woolly mammoth carcass ever recovered from Russia was unveiled at an exhibition in Yokohama, Japan earlier this month. Nicknamed Yuka, the baby female lived about 39,000 years ago, and is remarkable for the preservation of her fur and soft tissues, such as muscle.


Yuka's tissue samples have been sent to the laboratory of Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced South Korean stem cell scientist, who, with Russian researchers, hopes to clone the mammoth.


Wilmut says he doesn't doubt the sincerity of the scientists hoping to clone woolly mammoths with the Dolly technique. Hew called the idea "wildly optimistic" as the technical challenges were so tough.


Wilmut explains that many formidable hurdles still stand in the way of scientists who want to clone the beasts. The technique requires scores of healthy mammoth cells and hundreds or thousands of eggs from a closely related species, such as the Asian elephant.


The most immediate problem is that mammoth cells must survive with their DNA intact. The cells degenerate quickly at the temperature of melting snow and ice, when most remains are found.


"By the time you've got a bone sticking up in the sunshine, it's effectively too late. You need to get it straight out of the deep freeze, as it were," Wilmut said.

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