This has all the makings of a really funny horror movie where lots of people get squished and squashed in hilariously painful ways.
Let’s hope I’m right.
Ten thousand years after woolly mammoths vanished from the face of the Earth, scientists are embarking on an ambitious project to bring the beasts back to the Arctic tundra.
The prospect of recreating mammoths and returning them to the wild has been discussed – seriously at times – for more than a decade, but on Monday researchers announced fresh funding they believe could make their dream a reality.
The boost comes in the form of $15m (£11m) raised by the bioscience and genetics company Colossal, co-founded by Ben Lamm, a tech and software entrepreneur, and George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who has pioneered new approaches to gene editing.
The two guys who co-founded the company
The scientists have set their initial sights on creating an elephant-mammoth hybrid by making embryos in the laboratory that carry mammoth DNA. The starting point for the project involves taking skin cells from Asian elephants, which are threatened with extinction, and reprogramming them into more versatile stem cells that carry mammoth DNA. The particular genes that are responsible for mammoth hair, insulating fat layers and other cold climate adaptions are identified by comparing mammoth genomes extracted from animals recovered from the permafrost with those from the related Asian elephants.
These embryos would then be carried to term in a surrogate mother or potentially in an artificial womb. If all goes to plan – and the hurdles are far from trivial – the researchers hope to have their first set of calves in six years.
“Our goal is to make a cold-resistant elephant, but it is going to look and behave like a mammoth. Not because we are trying to trick anybody, but because we want something that is functionally equivalent to the mammoth, that will enjoy its time at -40C, and do all the things that elephants and mammoths do, in particular knocking down trees,” Church told the Guardian.
The project is framed as an effort to help conserve Asian elephants by equipping them with traits that allow them to thrive in vast stretches of the Arctic known as the mammoth steppe. But the scientists also believe introducing herds of elephant-mammoth hybrids to the Arctic tundra may help restore the degraded habitat and combat some of the impacts of the climate crisis. For example, by knocking down trees, the beasts might help to restore the former Arctic grasslands.
Not all scientists suspect that creating mammoth-like animals in the lab is the most effective way to restore the tundra. “My personal thinking is that the justifications given – the idea that you could geoengineer the Arctic environment using a herd of mammoths – isn’t plausible,” said Dr Victoria Herridge, an evolutionary biologist at the Natural History Museum.
“The scale at which you’d have to do this experiment is enormous. You are talking about hundreds of thousands of mammoths which each take 22 months to gestate and 30 years to grow to maturity.”
This all seems totally reasonable and like a good expenditure of funds.
This is a much more normal society than what we have now