A week ago, in Siberia, Russian scientists discovered the carcass of a woolly mammoth buried in the permafrost of the Lyakhovsky Islands in the country’s far, northeastern reaches. This, in itself, would not be groundbreaking news, except that the animal – which had lived 10,000 to 15,000 years ago – was still bleeding liquid blood. With the continuing advancement of cloning technology, It is not beyond the realm of possibility that – one day – The Steven Spielberg movie Jurassic Park may become a reality.
The mammoth, discovered by a team from North-Eastern Federal University, had been preserved remarkably well, due to the permafrost, it is believed.
Semyon Grigoriev, Director of the Mammoth Museum of North-Eastern Federal University, who also participated in the expedition, told Russian media that they had made a startling discovery when they took the blood sample back to the museum laboratory. “We have put the blood sample into the freezer of the Mammoth Museum. It still did not freeze at -17 degrees Celsius. We need to study it thoroughly to draw any conclusions.”
The mammoth is believed to have become trapped in a swamp and then died of starvation.
Although cloning is already a reality, there still remains much skepticism within the scientific community, regarding the possibility of successfully cloning long-extinct species of plants or animals. In 2008, scientists were able to clone a Pyrenean Ibex, a type of wild mountain goat. They were able to do this, it should be noted, by using skin samples that had been taken from the last known living animal and preserved in liquid nitrogen. They Used DNA from these skin samples to replace the genetic material in eggs from domestic goats, It was the first time an extinct animal has been cloned.
Unfortunately, the cloned ibex died soon after birth, due to a lung defect; which has been a common issue in cloned animals. For Jurassic Park to become a reality, it seems, there is much work to be done. The foundations were laid in the 1990s, however, and various projects across the world are moving the science ever forward.
Also in 2009, scientists published a near-complete genome of the woolly mammoth, which died out around 10,000 years ago. Professor Robert Miller, director the Medical Research Council’s Reproductive Sciences Unit at Edinburgh University, said: “I think this is an exciting advance as it does show the potential of being able to regenerate extinct species.”
Miller has been working with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland to set up the Institute for Breeding Rare and Endangered African Mammals. Their aim is to use cloning to preserve species of rare African mammals, like the white rhino.
In addition to the many obvious ethical and environmental questions raised by the possibility of reviving extinct creatures, the knowledge and technology is not yet here and a great many scientists have dismissed the idea that such an achievement would ever be possible. Of course; at one point in history, the greatest scientific minds of the day believed it ridiculous to think that the Sun, rather than the Earth, lay at the center of our planetary system. Just 50 years ago, many of the technologies we now take for granted were not even being dreamed of.
The discovery of the Siberian mammoth that, apparently, still bleeds after thousands of years has yet to convince the majority of those who work and study in this field that we are any closer to Jurassic Park becoming a reality.
Written by Graham J Noble