The last known mammoth lived around 4,500 years ago, but if scientists in Japan are successful then we might be able to meet one soon! Research to resurrect these awesome creatures was shelved when cell nuclei taken from a sample from Siberia were found to be too badly damaged, however a scientific breakthrough in Kobe successfully cloned a mouse from sixteen year old deep frozen tissue, and the research began again in earnest ...
Mammoths are a species of the extinct genus Mammuthus, and closely related to modern elephants today. As anyone who's been awed and amazed by a mammoth skeleton would know, some had long-curved tusks, and in colder regions, long shaggy hair. The last known mammoths died out 4,500 years ago, but in 1997 researchers at Kyoto University began to try and extract DNA from the tissue of a preserved mammoth carcass found in the Siberian permafrost.
Their efforts were thwarted however by damage caused by ice crystals that rendered the cells unviable. The breakthrough came in 2008 when scientist Dr. Teruhiko Wakayama from the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, developed a new technique, and successfully managed to clone a mouse from tissue that had been deep frozen for sixteen years.
Now emeritus professor Akira Iritani and his team at Kyoto University are making preparations to fulfill their goal of cloning a live mammoth. They successfully extracted mammoth egg cell nuclei without damage, and used elephant egg cells to fill the gaps.
"Now the technical problems have been overcome, all we need is a good sample of soft tissue from a frozen mammoth," he told The Daily Telegraph.
In the summer, Iritani will travel to Siberia to search for good mammoth samples. There are an estimated 150 million mammoth remains in Russia's Siberian permafrost, some whole frozen specimens, others in pieces of bone, tusk, tissue and wool. If he is unsuccessful he will apply to Russian scientists to give him a sample.
If a mammoth embryo is successfully cloned then it will be transplanted into a surrogate African elephant, the mammoth's closest living relative. Then will follow a gestation period of 22 months, the longest of any land animal.
"The success rate in the cloning of cattle was poor until recently but now stands at about 30 per cent, I think we have a reasonable chance of success and a healthy mammoth could be born in four or five years." said Iritani.
There are other considerations however; "If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed [the mammoth] and whether to display it to the public," Iritani told the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. "After the mammoth is born, we'll examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors."