Genetic Engineering Could Bring The Woolly Mammoth Back From Extinction

It sounds like yet another Jurassic Park sequel, but it's real: scientists are using genetic engineering to bring the woolly mammoth back from extinction. They've got the DNA, they've got the technology, and they're saying it could happen by 2019.

Related: Pleistocene Park Is Like A Real-Life Ice Age

Lyuba the mummified baby mammoth

Ice Age Genetic Edits

Score another win for CRISPR/Cas9, the gene-editing technology that has taken the scientific world by storm. Harvard geneticist George Church, who helped develop the technique, and his team are using CRISPR to insert genes for uniquely mammoth traits into elephant DNA. Those include genes for small ears, subcutaneous fat, freeze-resistant blood, and the mammoth's signature woolly coat.

Related: What Is CRISPR, And How Does It Work?

Three wooly mammoth fossils at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Since beginning the project in 2015, they've already shown it's possible to splice mammoth DNA, harvested from carcasses discovered on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean, into Asian elephant cells. Now they're working toward engineering an entire animal. So far, they've increased the number of gene edits from 15 to 45. The plan is to grow a mammoth embryo in an artificial womb, rather than put a female elephant at risk.

Related: How Geneticists Are Recreating Extinct Smells

Like An Elephant, But Woollier

Before you get too excited, we should inform you that this won't be the same woolly mammoth that roamed the earth during the last Ice Age 4,500 years ago. "Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant/mammoth embryo," Church told The Guardian's Sarah Knapton. "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." If it works, the techniques could prove to be useful in engineering the DNA of at-risk species to help them make their own comebacks.

Want to learn more about CRISPR/Cas-9? Listen to our conversation with Dr. Sam Sternberg, CRISPR expert and protein-RNA biochemist, on the Curiosity Podcast. Stream or download the episode using the player below, or find it everywhere podcasts are found, including iTunesStitcher, and Gretta.

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Content About Woolly Mammoths

Wooly Mammoths Might Be Coming Back to Life!

Woolly Mammoth Brain Found: Time To Clone?

The Last Of The Mammoths

Written by Reuben Westmaas April 4, 2017

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.