Extinct Species That Could Be Brought Back

A museum worker inspects a replica of a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), a species that went extinct 3,000 to 10,000 years ago. In March 2012, scientists in Russia and South Korea announced a partnership to try to clone the mammoth and generate a living specimen.

National Geographic News asked Hendrik Poinar, a molecular evolutionary geneticist and biological anthropologist at the Ancient DNA Centre at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, if we might soon see the gigantic land mammals roaming the steppe again. Poinar will speak about the emerging technology at the TEDx Conference on DeExtinction in Washington this month.

“People were painting pictures of woolly mammoths in caves in France 35,000 years ago, so we have this amazing history with them,” Poinar said.

Poinar’s team isolates DNA and proteins from fossils and preserved remains, and then uses sophisticated sequencing and analysis tools to answer questions about species extinctions, evolution, and even the spread of infectious diseases. Poinar has tested relatively well-preserved samples from mammoth carcasses uncovered in the Yukon and Siberia. The mammoth remains had been entombed in the permafrost (permanently frozen ground), so degradation of their DNA had been slowed over time, Poinar explained.

New Gene Tools

In 2006, Poinar’s lab began to map large sections of the mammoth’s genome, aided by new high-input DNA sequencers, which can quickly analyze millions of fragments. This is important, because even the most well-preserved mammoth specimens have DNA strands that have fallen apart into countless smaller sequences, since the complex molecule is highly susceptible to decay (Poinar said DNA starts breaking down as soon as a living thing dies.)

“You’ll never really create an exact genome because when you have short fragments there are no good ways to know how many repeats of sequences there are,” said Poinar. But scientists can compare the fragments to each other to find overlapping areas, and then piece together much of the strand. Then, they can map those regions against the DNA of the closest living relative of the mammoth—the Asian elephant.

“We can in theory use that information to modify existing chromosomes with what we imagine to be mammoth substitutions,” said Poinar. The result would be an elephant-mammoth hybrid, and such a creature could theoretically be implanted into the womb of a mother elephant. Get the formula right, and the offspring might be “a mammoth in the eye of the beholder,” said Poinar.

Raising Big Questions

Poinar asked why scientists would want to do that in the first place. “Is it because we have this ability, to push the boundaries of what’s possible for the sake of innovation?” he asked.

Poinar added, “Would it give conservation movements something new to generate excitement, or does it generate apathy, so people ask ‘why do we need to care about saving them in the wild if we can bring them back?'”

Poinar said he thought parts of Siberia could support reborn populations of mammoths, and that they would likely be able to survive, even in a warming climate, because they had existed across such a wide range.

“That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” Poinar added. “As much as the kid in me would love to see these fantastic species plundering across the north, it’s hard to see a reason why we should unless we think this technology could give us tools for conservation.” He explained that the real win would be adapting such techniques to bolster the numbers of current endangered species, such as mountain gorillas.

—Brian Clark Howard
Photograph by Jonathan S. Blair, National Geographic

Find us here

Get news from the CSGLOBE in your inbox each weekday morning

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors/source and do not necessarily reflect the position of CSGLOBE or its staff.

Paid content

China Is Turning The Rainforest Into Cheap Furniture For The U.S.

Driven by American demand for cheap furniture, China has become the greatest importer of illegal timber. The...

California is about to become the first state in the US to require solar power installations on all new homes

The world's fifth largest economy —and possibly the first government in the world—is about to require solar panels for all new homes. The California Energy...

Exxon, Suncor sued for stoking climate change

Coastal cities like New York and San Francisco have already started legal battles with oil giants for knowingly fueling climate change. Now, landlocked communities in...

What's New Today

Georgia House Votes To Allow Citizens To Abolish Police Departments In The State

The Georgia House backed an effort on Friday to dissolve the Glynn County Police Department and any...

Leaked CDC document contradicts Pence claim that U.S. coronavirus cases ‘have stabilized’

Even as Vice President Mike Pence wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Tuesday that coronavirus...

Five bombshells about Trump from Bolton ‘s book

Excerpts from former national security adviser John Bolton ’s book about his time in the Trump administration...

Don’t Listen to Fox. Here’s What’s Really Going On in Seattle’s Protest Zone.

It seems I live in a city undergoing a “totalitarian takeover” that will lead to “fascist outcomes”...

MOST READ

What Is Agenda 21? Depopulation of 95% of the World By 2030

Most people are unaware that one of the greatest threats to their freedom may be a United Nations program which plans to depopulate 95%...

Complete List of BANKS Owned/Controlled by the Rothschild Family

What’s the significance of having a central bank within a country and why should you concern yourself, your family and colleagues? Central banks are illegally...

Racial wounds rip open under a president with a history of exploiting them

President Donald Trump has spent much of his adult life building his brand around racial divisions.

China Is Turning The Rainforest Into Cheap Furniture For The U.S.

Driven by American demand for cheap furniture, China has become the greatest importer of illegal timber. The...

EEA report: Europe highest recycling rates

Highest recycling rates in Austria and Germany – but UK and Ireland show fastest increase Austria, Germany and Belgium recycled the largest proportion of...

Newly Discovered Hidden Forests In The Desert Could Be Key To Stopping Climate Change

When experts talk about climate change, one of the key factors they point to as a cause is deforestation, which is happening all over...

Global deforestation shows widespread destruction

First-ever map of global deforestation shows widespread destruction A collaboration that includes NASA and Google has tracked vital losses over the last decade There's no single...

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think

From Johann Hari, author of  ’Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’ It is now one hundred years since...

3 Friends Built A Garden — It’s On A Roof, But That’s Not Even The Best Part

Is this the garden of the future? Usually, grocery shopping in a city isn't an experience where you have a lot of local choices. Do you...

Monsanto GMO wheat contamination in Montana

Monsanto GMO Wheat Found in Montana as Oregon Probe Ends Monsanto’s experimental genetically modified wheat has been discovered growing in the second US field in...

Someone Finally Explained How ISIS Was Created, and it Will Make You Question Everything

In this episode of Truth in Media, Ben Swann explores the origin of ISIS that has already been long forgotten by American media. Swann...