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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mammoth Project

This is old news.

Real old... months for me, and millenia  for others.

Japanese and Russian scientists are currently at work trying to clone a wooly mammoth... that's the big hairy/furry elephant... you know... Manfred aka Manny from the kiddie Ice Age flicks.

After finding a thigh bone belonging to a mammoth, scientists from Japan's Kinki University and the Sakha Republic's mammoth museum are looking to see if they extract mammoth DNA from the well-preserved bone marrow in the bone.

The idea revolves around replacing the nuclei of egg cells from a modern African elephant (That's the large-sized elephant versus the small-eared Indian elephant) with those taken from the mammoth's marrow cells. The hope is that embryos with mammoth DNA can be produced, which will then be planted into an elephant's womb to bring it to term.

And elephant is pregnant for about 22 months, by the way. 

If successful, voila! A mammoth-elephant hybrid will be born. Not a true mammoth... but a hybrid... genetically, future generations could have the regular elephant parts bred out to get a truer representation of a mammoth.

Mammoths have been extinct since the end of the last ice age (the real one, not the movies) about 10,000 years ago.  

This could be good. We need ice age mammoths back - because dammit, I want to find out what they taste like! Can you imagine a set of ribs from one of those babies? Mmmmm, boy!

Okay, I'm kidding... but... aside from seeing whether or not it can be done, why are thy doing this? Do we really need a Jurassic Park? That one worked out well, didn't it? 

Anyhow... don't start planning the barbeque! This whole cloning thing could take five years.

But can it work? Yes. Sort of.

Back in 2009, scientists attempted to revive a newly extinct Pyrenean ibex (The last one died in 2000 after a branch fell on it - I think that's a funny way for a species to become extinct, and I'm biting my lip to stop from laughing out loud). Following the same method as outlined above, a cloned ibex was born... only to die minutes later from breathing difficulties.

Maybe this is just one curses species. It's the only one I know to become extinct twice.

According to the Roslin Institute who became famous for cloning Dolly the sheep but are no longer involved in actual cloning work says the chances of success are in the range of 1% to 5% - which isn't bad considering an extinct species currently has a 0% chance of being anything other than extinct.

The Institute also says that the chance of finding viable whole cells within the mammoth thigh bone are pretty darn slim.

"If there are intact cells in this tissue they have been 'stored' frozen. However, if we think back to what actually happened to the animal - it died, even if from the cold, the cells in the body would have taken some time to freeze. This time lag would allow for breakdown of the cells, which normally happens when any animal dies. Then the carcass would freeze. So it is unlikely that the cells would be viable," the Roslin Institute noted in a public statement.

"Let's say that one in a thousand cells were nevertheless viable, practical issues come into play. Given that we have an efficiency of 1% cloning for livestock species and if only one in a thousand cells are viable then around 100,000 cells would need to be transferred," it said.

Regardless of what happens, the Japanese-Russian team is going to try. Gurgling abomination that will howl for Satan to come for from another dimension or a really hair African elephant thirsty for human blood... at least the science appears more science-y and less science-fiction-y.

That's my homage to the 'y' chromosome and genetics.

Andrew Joseph

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