A mammoth clone?

Scientists are trying to create it, though the chances are slim

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

 The mammoth: will the past re it could be Jurassic Park come alive. An international team of scientists is preparing to excavate and clone a woolly mammoth -- the likes of which roamed the Earth about 23,000 years ago from dna . Mammoths were contemporaries of early humans and were probably exterminated by them, according to Larry D Agenbroad, a geologist from the Northern Arizona University, usa . Agenbroad was quoted in the New York Times as saying: "Maybe we can predict the future if we know what happened in the past." Although success of the project is highly unlikely, one option for the cloned mammoth would be to put it in an animal park near Sahka in eastern Siberia if the project succeeds. Agenbroad is not counting on success: "I guess it would be a rarity, but the biologists are quite optimistic."

The first task of the team of scientists will be to cut out the cloning candidate from a Siberian ice field. The adult male mammoth, estimated to have been about 40 years of age, was found by a 9-year-old nomadic reindeer herder in 1997. It has been named Jarkov, after the boy's family. "To feel the skin and touch the flesh of the mammoth will be quite spectacular. It is the closest I have got to an animal I've been chasing for more than 30 years," Agenbroad told the New York Times . He, along with scientists from the Netherlands, France and Russia, are removing the ice-encased animal from the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia and flying it more than 320 km to the city of Khatanga, where the mammoth will be kept frozen in an underground tunnel. Scientists studying the 3.3-metre-tall animal will be sheltered here from the harsh weather. Their primary aim is to extract dna for cloning, apart from analysing dirt, pollen and even the stomach contents of the mammoth.

The scientists intend to put dna from the mammoth into an Asian elephant's egg that has been stripped of elephant genes. When the elephant would deliver, the baby would be a mammoth, not a hybrid, Agenbroad points out, adding that he did not think the elephant would know the difference, "though she might wonder why her baby is so hairy."

Among those who doubt the success of the project is Greg Pence, a medical ethicist at the medical school and the department of philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, usa . "You need live nuclei and live eggs, plus a host mammoth mother to gestate the foetus. As none of these are available -- Jurassic Park to the contrary -- it would not succeed," he told the newspaper.

Even Hessel Bouma, cell biology expert at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, believes the odds are slim for mammoth cloning: "It would start with dna not from a fresh cell but from one haphazardly frozen by nature. The chances of dna being completely intact is very, very small." Adult males have the lowest success rate of cloning to date, he says. Moreover, if an elephant were to give birth to a mammoth, it would be about 99.5 per cent mammoth and a tiny fraction of its genes would come from the mother, Bouma observes.

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