Gene editing technology may literally open up a shortcut to resurrecting the woolly mammoth, but some scientists argue doing so would be risky and unethical.
This is not your parents’ “Jurassic Park.”
Harnessing the power of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool, a team of Harvard researchers is slowly coaxing woolly mammoth-like traits out of normal elephant cells. But recent claims that they’re close to creating a hybrid embryo have raised questions regarding the ethics of the procedure.
The issues range from questions of practicality – Should we risk impregnating an endangered elephant with an experimental embryo? – to an ethical Pandora’s box: Would the ability to bring species back from the dead derail conservation efforts?
But geneticist George Church says he believes letting the research continue would produce the benefits that go beyond the chance to see an extinct creature, suggesting the reintroduction of the woolly mammoth might mitigate climate change.
Except it wouldn’t be a mammoth, exactly.
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” Dr. Church told the Guardian. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.”
The phrase “mammoth cloning” may conjure up images of scientists extracting amber-bound DNA and incubating it in frogs as in the 1993 film “Jurassic Park,” but it means something quite different to Church.
Instead of re-creating an extinct organism, his team is trying to create a hybrid “mammophant.” Starting with the woolly mammoth’s closest living relative, the Asian elephant, Church uses the CRISPR precision gene editing tool to snip and splice in mammoth genes, granting mammoth-like characteristics such as a shaggy coat, extra fat, and cold-resistant blood.