A Japanese scientist suggests that he may be able to clone a woolly mammoth using frozen mammoth cells within the next five years. Professor Akani Iritani of Kyoto University told the The Daily Telegraph that he thinks there’s a “reasonable chance” that a “healthy mammoth could be born in four or five years.”
This is not the first time scientists have dreamed Jurassic Park-esque fantasies–previous attempts to clone the woolly mammoth failed in the 1990’s, mainly because soft tissue extracted from the ice had been, well, frozen for over 5,000 years (and so the DNA was damaged).
However, in 2008 Dr. Teruhiko Wakayama of Kobe’s Riken Center for Developmental Biology, pioneered a technique for cloning mammals from frozen soft tissue. Wakayama’s technique was successfully implemented in cloning a mouse from the cells of a mouse that had been frozen for 16 years.
Iritani plans to use Wakayama’s technique to first identify viable mammoth cells, and then extract the nuclei of the estimated 2 to 3 percent that will be in good condition. Iritani plans to obtain the mammoth tissue from a mammoth preserved in a Russian research laboratory, the Yomiuri Shinbunreports.
The extracted nuclei will then be injected into the (we assume fertilized) egg cells of a female African elephant, to create an embryo with mammoth DNA.
If all of these steps are successfully completed, the embryo will then be transplanted into the womb of a female African elephant by Professor Minoru Miyashita of Kinki University and two U.S. African elephant researchers. Miyashita was previously the head of Osaka’s Tennoji Zoo. Once the embryo makes it into the elephant’s womb, the team(s) will wait for the approximate 600-day gestation period and (God willing, or perhaps not) be rewarded with a baby mammoth.
Iritani expects it will take around two years to impregnate the female African elephant, and so the world can expect to see a baby mammoth in four to six years. Or, perhaps not–they’re not sure what they’re going to do with the mammoth when (if) it is ever cloned into existence.
“If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed and whether to display it to the public,” Iritani told the Yomiuri Shinbun, “After the mammoth is born, we’ll examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors.”
The good news (I think) is that even if Iritani and his scientists manage to clone a mammoth that then grows to be 13 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh 8,000 pounds, it’ll still be smaller than an adult male African elephant (which can grow to be about 13 feet at the shoulder and weigh up to 13,000 pounds).