Researchers hope to clone a wooly mammoth in the next five to six years. Image: Flickr / hawkoffire / CC-BY

Theoretically, cloning a wooly mammoth has been possible for decades. Now, researchers in Japan and Russia have agreed to work together in an effort to clone a mammoth by 2017.

Viable nuclei found

Though the theoretical work of cloning a mammoth was done years ago, the stumbling block has been nuclei. Mammoth bones and bodies have been found, but all of these body parts have had very heavily degraded DNA. No viable cell nuclei had been found in mammoth bones or bodies until very recently. In August of this year, a mammoth thigh bone with viable DNA was found in Russia. Researchers plan on extracting DNA from this bone and using it to clone the species that has been extinct for 10,000 years.

Elephant relationship utilized

The wooly mammoth has been targeted for cloning research for a specific reason. The wooly mammoth is closely related to the modern elephant. The extinct DNA will be removed from the bone, replicated, and then implanted in an elephant egg, then implanted in an elephant host mother. If all goes according to the theoretical plan, then the elephant host mother will eventually give birth to a living, breathing mammoth.

Questions of ethics

Though researchers intend to create a cloned wooly mammoth in the next five to six years, there are still questions about the ethics of this plan. The mammoth thigh bone was revealed by the warming Siberian ice in Russia and has been sitting in storage for years. Researchers question whether it is ethical to re-create a species that is extinct – both from a standpoint of humane treatment and a standpoint of medical ethics. There are strong arguments on both sides, and as researchers continue their work, the final deadline for decision and action will soon come.


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