nimal species from millions of years ago have been vital towards maintaining balance within Earth’s ecosystem. It has been the extended population and evolution of humans that have brought such species to their extinction. Although in the case of the woolly mammoth, it was sadly mother nature that brought the species to extinction. Precipitation was the cause of the extinction of woolly mammoths through the changes to plants. The change happened so quickly that they could not adapt and evolve to survive.
In fact, the species had walked so much around the planet in the look for a suitable habitat that they had actually circled Earth twice. Nature simply didn’t want them on the planet any longer, but as we know, nature does not follow any rules. What is in dire need of attention is humanity’s extensive efforts to actually bring the species back to life.
About 4,000 years ago, the species went extinct. This species has been around for 5 million years and had lived through significant changes. Based on its prolonged presence on Earth and within ancient history, it had a massive impact on the ecosystem and so does our world now without their presence, but in a negative manner.
De-extinction of Ancient Species
Professor George Church from the Harvard Medical School has been researching for the past 10 years how to bring ancient species back to life by extracting their genes and placing them into their evolved species. In this case, our modern-time elephant is the evolved species of the woolly mammoth. As stated by Professor Church, this procedure had been successfully performed before:
“We’re trying to de-extinct genes. The field has actually already done this with two genes that confer cold-resistant properties to organisms. The idea is to safely introduce these and other genes into present-day elephants so the elephants can comfortably live in and restore Arctic environments.” (Quote by Professor George Church)
Due to its biological nature, the woolly mammoth was only able to survive in very cold temperatures. A very similar case of how the modern elephant is mainly able to survive in tropical habitats that are warm. What Professor Church is trying to achieve is not only to bring this species back to life but create a hybrid species between elephants and woolly mammoths that would be able to adapt to any climate. The goal is for this new species to restore the arctic by enhancing the ecosystem.
The genes have been taken from various preserved bodies, but the best is considered to be Lyuba, a baby mammoth that had been found frozen in the Artic of Siberia in 2007. Experts consider Lyuba to be the best-preserved mammoth discovered to date. From radiocarbon dating, its age is around 42,000 years and just like many others of its kind, it most probably died because of the incompatible habitat.
What the ecosystem needs right now is biodiversity in order to mitigate the change within our climate. Some critics have asked the experts why don’t they focus on saving endangered species, but by doing this they actually are. Most people don’t know, but our present elephants have become an endangered species due to the current climate change. By creating this hybrid species, we are assuring that elephants won’t disappear as with the new gene implemented from woolly mammoths they will be able to live in any habitat.
“All elephant species are endangered. We’re trying to give them new land in the Arctic that’s far away from humans, who are the major culprits causing extinction.”(Quote by Professor George Church)
Over $15 million had been already raised for this experiment in the hopes that it will fix our environmental issues. The bioscience and genetic company known as Colossal had been working closely with Professor Church to create gene editing, the process that allows the reincarnation of this species biological engineering.
The Science behind it
You may ask, how does this whole process actually work? Well, it is not as complicated as experts make it sound. Gene Editing is taking nuclei from one species and replacing and replacing them with nuclei from another species which will alter certain biological abilities.
- Genome extracted from frozen woolly mammoth specimens and compared with Asian elephant genomes to reveal mammoth-specific genes.
- Skin cells from Asian elephants are edited to carry mammoth genes.
- An egg is created in the lab from stem cells. Its nucleus is then replaced with the nucleus from the skin cell containing the mammoth DNA.
- The egg is stimulated to start it dividing and carried to term either in a surrogate elephant mother or potentially in an artificial womb.
Although I put it in simple words, the actual process is very difficult to accomplish. Professor Church compares the aims of this project with the aims NASA had putting Neil Armstrong on the moon:
“It’s a similar kind of ambitious, engineering-focused, team-based target that President Kennedy set when he declared we would put a person on the moon within a decade.”(Quote by Professor George Church)
It is speculated that in the next six years we will be able to see the first babies of this new hybrid species which will be vital towards repopulating elephants around the world and enhancing the biodiversity around the world. Especially around Siberia, where the woolly mammoth is said to have been first sighted in ancient times, around 400,000 years ago.
The process of gene editing can be applied to other ancient extinct species, this is why it is so important to see this attempt actually work. This will bring further investment and also more interest towards helping bring extinct species back to life and repopulating the ecosystem.