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Japan Science Idle

Russian Scientists Say They'll Clone a Mammoth Within 5 Years 302

Posted by samzenpus
from the pleistocene-park dept.
Many scientists (mainly Japanese and Russian) have dreamed of cloning a mammoth over the years. When the mammoth genome was partially reconstructed in 2008, that dream seemed a bit closer. Besides the millions of dollars needed for such a project, the biggest hurdle was the lack of a good sample of mammoth DNA. That hurdle has now been cleared, thanks to the discovery of well-preserved bone marrow in a mammoth thigh bone. Russian scientist Semyon Grigoriev, acting director of the Sakha Republic's mammoth museum, and colleagues from Japan's Kinki University say that within 5 years they'll likely have a clone. From the article: "What's been missing is woolly mammoth nuclei with undamaged genes. Scientists have been on a Holy Grail-type search for such pristine nuclei since the late 1990s. Now it sounds like the missing genes may have been found."
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Russian Scientists Say They'll Clone a Mammoth Within 5 Years

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  • Re:Kinki University? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @03:27PM (#38283474)

    The Japanese probably want to eat the mammoth.

  • Re:Wired (Score:4, Informative)

    by socrplayr813 (1372733) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @03:47PM (#38283730)

    All of that is extremely unlikely to be an issue, considering they only have one sample of DNA that's any good. You would need AT least a male and female to start producing more mammoths in any kind of normal fashion, and you'd need a good number more than that to provide enough genetic diversity for them to be healthy.

    While it's POSSIBLE we could eventually resurrect the species, it's unlikely, and we're not even close to that yet.

  • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @03:49PM (#38283772) Journal

    Siberia gets down to -40C in the winter, it's cold enough with plenty of margin for global warming.

  • by paleo2002 (1079697) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @04:06PM (#38283998)
    Every few years someone announces that they'll clone a mammoth within the next few years. I remember writing a science report about this in the 6th grade, around 1990-91. It'd be great if they finally do it, but I'm not holding my breath.

    I'm sure they'd make good eating, though.
  • Old news (Score:4, Informative)

    by uigrad_2000 (398500) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @04:11PM (#38284064) Homepage Journal

    They were 5 years away, one year ago. [pcworld.com]

    So, it seems that after finding the "holy grail" of the missing genome, they have been set back by one year.

    I did a lot of research about this back in January, when they first said that it was 5 years away. I heard a genome scientist interviewed on the radio, and he said that the resulting baby will be at most half Mammoth. It will have more elephant characteristics than mammoth, and will most likely be non-fertile, but it is still an important step to eventually having a fertile mammoth clone.

    So, as much as I'd like to imagine mammoths in the zoo for my children to see, the truth is that we are still far from that point.

  • Re:Ice Age Park (Score:4, Informative)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @04:23PM (#38284212)

    According to the wiki, 150-200 randomly chosen individuals will be stable for 80 generations or more. But then, the Amish were founded with around 200 members originally, and while they are certainly still around they have much higher rates of genetic disorders (and then again, many of those 200 were probably related before they isolated themselves). It's not an easy question to answer.

  • Re:Ice Age Park (Score:4, Informative)

    by RockDoctor (15477) on Wednesday December 07, 2011 @10:59AM (#38290812) Journal

    People regularly throw around the number 40 as being the minimum number of people to keep a diverse gene pool going, could that roughly be true for mammoths too?

    "Throw around" sounds about as precise as this is. There isn't a huge amount of actual data about this.

    If you look at every colonisation of any island by any species, then the minimum that is needed to start a colony is the arrival of a single pregnant female. For long-lived, slow breeding species such as humans (and elephants, and presumably mammoths), that's likely to be very dodgy on both the population genetics front, and the simple question of whether or not there are enough hands to feed enough mouths.

    But in practice, that's not how things would happen. If you have a classical colonisation scenario of your beasties being caught on vegetation rafts in a flood (or on ice floes) every few decades, and carried to Terra Nova, then there's a reasonable chance of a newcomer arriving in the incipient colony every few decades. And it doesn't particularly matter if it's a male or female that arrives. That does a lot of good for population genetics.

    There was a study published a few years ago of a wolf pack in southern Sweden. They're isolated from the main Finno-Russian population by a combination of tough landscape and many miles of unfriendly farmers, despite them being a protected species. The pack was, for a long time (I haven't read the paper for several years!), in pretty desperate straits genetically, with poor breeding success, and to the researchers following them were seeing a variety of diseases of in-breeding. (They could do a complete unambiguous family tree by doing DNA analyses on wolf turds, and track new pups.) The pack's size was stable at around a dozen, despite there being abundant wild(-ish) land and game for the pack to expand into. Then in the mid-90s one single solitary male (I think) wolf managed to make it through the gauntlet of central Sweden to meet up with the pack. Within a few years the pup count was rising rapidly, and the degree of consanguinity in the pups was dropping substantially. That's the effect of, literally, one incomer.

    So, although 40-odd may be bandied around as a minimum safe population size, it's not a well-founded figure. It's also likely to be a decidedly different figure for different species.

    Returning to the mammoth population subject : If I were planning a cloning/ breeding programme, I'd probably start by trying to clone a male. (Reasoning : the first one off the production line is going to be a "learning experience", and you really want to get your cows right for breeding from.) Then, learning lessons from "M1" and continuing genetic analysis of the raw material from new mammoth finds, I'd work on preparing my first cow : "F1".

    (I've already realised that I'd have to do some careful background research to try to identify a restricted population of mammoth genetic material, in both time and space ; there's likely a lot of endemism in the populations, and mixing dissimilar genomes could cause issues. Say, one population has digestive genes optimised for grasses, while another population lived on leaves from trees ... not good to mix them, at least not while learning mammoth biology.)

    Back to the population : I've now got a (probably flawed) M1 and an F1 (hopefully better). It's going to be years before F1 is fit to attempt to breed, so I'd now turn back to trying to make a better M2 (say I'm only going to get to use one elephant's uterus per year). Then F2 ; then F3 ; then F4. By now, I'll be getting close to being able to breed off F1 (I think ; IANA mammoth keeper ; then again, no-one else is), so I'd better start to attend to my stock of males. I'm making the (not unjustified) assumption that modifying male's sperm is going to be cheaper and easier than modifying eggs, so I can use more-or-less off the shelf genetic engineering techniques to bring parts of

Murphy's Law, that brash proletarian restatement of Godel's Theorem. -- Thomas Pynchon, "Gravity's Rainbow"

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