SCIENCE

Woolly Mammoth Clone? DNA Makes Resurrection Possible, But Many Obstacles Remain

Should the woolly mammoth be resurrected? Is it even possible? And if so, is it ethical? Why did they go extinct in the first place? And what would be the point of bringing them back to life?

Watch the video above and click the link below to learn more about how scientists may one day be able to clone this long extinct giant. And don't forget to weigh in by participating in the poll and leaving a comment at the bottom of the page. Come on, talk nerdy to me!

Hi everyone. Cara Santa Maria here. Should we resurrect the woolly mammoth? Is it even possible? And if so, is it ethical? Why did they go extinct in the first place? And what would be the point of bringing them back to life?

You may remember hearing about Clive Palmer, the Australian billionaire who supposedly wanted to create a real-world Jurassic Park. Well, apparently he’s denying it. Good thing too. Because right now, cloning a dinosaur is impossible. See, in order to clone an extinct animal, you need to get your hands on lots and lots of well-preserved cells with viable DNA in their nuclei. Nobody's been able to get genetic material from a dinosaur. With time, their remains either completely vanished or, in rare cases, fossilized to stone. That's because the last dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.

Woolly mammoths, on the other hand, went extinct as little as 3600 years ago. The majority of them died off 10,000 years ago, but an isolated population survived on Wrangel Island until 1650 BCE. Now just as a point of reference, that was a thousand years after the pyramids were built.

Scientists like Kevin Campbell of the University of Manitoba and Michael Hofreiter of the University of York have already started working with mammoth DNA in ingenious ways. They're pioneers in a new field called paleophysiology, in which small portions of DNA are taken from a mammoth, grown inside a living cell (like bacteria), and the properties of the proteins encoded by the DNA are studied. Eventually they hope to be able to do this in a larger animal, like an elephant. Even though we'd learn more about mammoth physiology from a living mammoth itself, Campbell and Hofreiter don't think it's in the cards just yet to clone one of these creatures.

But last year, Akira Iritani of Kyoto University announced a bold plan: he and his team want to clone a woolly mammoth within five years. Hypothetically, it's possible, but a lot of scientists are skeptical. We've successfully cloned animals from living tissue, but extinct creatures pose a whole host of problems, and mammoths have a special set.

For starters, you've got to get viable DNA. Luckily, we've found dozens of well-preserved mammoth specimens frozen in the permafrost of Siberia. But, when something has been frozen for thousands of years, its DNA gets really messed up. Frozen cells are often destroyed by ice crystals ripping through their membranes. Plus, DNA degrades over time. But even if scientists could get a large enough quantity of primo DNA from a frozen mammoth, the fun will have only just begun.

That DNA would have to be inserted into an egg of a living animal, and an elephant is probably the only candidate that could stand a chance of carrying a baby mammoth to term. Problem is, elephants ovulate about once every five years. And when they do, the egg is tiny and extremely hard to get to. Plus, researchers would need hundreds--maybe even thousands--of healthy eggs to be able to get the job done. Oh, and did I mention that elephants have a 600 day gestation cycle? That's a long time to wait--and a long time for something to go wrong.

But let's say that Iritani and team are successful in this extremely ambitious endeavor. Should they even be doing it? Some people say yes, that science for the sake of science is always a good idea. Other people argue that human intervention may have been a cause of mammoth extinction in the first place. Would cloning an extinct mammoth be righting our ancient wrongs? And even if we could resurrect the mammoth itself, how would we possibly resurrect the extinct ecosystem in which it once thrived? Or would we be creating a beast without a biome? What do you think? Can scientists pull this off? And even if they can, should they? Sound off on Twitter, Facebook, or right here on The Huffington Post. Come on, talk nerdy to me!

See all Talk Nerdy to Me posts.
Like Cara Santa Maria on Facebook.
Follow Cara Santa Maria on Twitter.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
Extinct Prehistoric Animals
CONVERSATIONS