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Efforts To Turn Elephants Into Woolly Mammoths Are Already Underway 147

Posted by Soulskill
from the still-waiting-on-a-mammoth-steak dept.
Jason Koebler writes: "Researchers are working to hybridize existing animals with extinct ones in order to create a '2.0' version of the animal. Using a genome editing technique known as CRISPR, Harvard synthetic biologist George Church has successfully migrated three genes, which gave the woolly mammoth its furry appearance, extra layer of fat, and cold-resistant blood, into the cells of Asian elephants, with the idea of eventually making a hybrid embryo. In theory, given what we know about both the woolly mammoth genome and the Asian elephant genome, the final product will be something that more closely resembles the former than the latter."
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Efforts To Turn Elephants Into Woolly Mammoths Are Already Underway

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  • Bad timing? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by daemonhunter (968210) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:17PM (#47061023)

    Maybe we shouldn't be making woolly mammoths just now, with climate change and all that apocalyptic-ness right around the corner.

    Just sayin'.

    • Re:Bad timing? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:38PM (#47061275)

      Maybe we shouldn't be making woolly mammoths just now, with climate change and all that apocalyptic-ness right around the corner.

      There will be plenty of prime mammoth habitat. Although tundra is turning into taiga, plenty of formerly glaciated areas are turning into tundra. For instance, the mammoths could live in Greenland, which was completely covered with ice the last time mammoths were around, but already has some areas with commercial reindeer herds.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:55PM (#47061421)

      Lets look back at the records. As the mammoth population declined, temperature increased. Obviously we need more mammoths.

    • by azcoyote (1101073)
      Nah, they'll be perfect when nuclear winter comes around. ;o)
    • Maybe we shouldn't be making woolly mammoths just now, with climate change and all that apocalyptic-ness right around the corner.

      Just sayin'.

      It depends. Did they find the genes that make them tasty?

  • by JustNiz (692889)

    why are they doing this?

    • by gbkersey (649921)
      For the circus of course....
    • why are they doing this?

      Its funded by "traditional medicine" merchants. The poachers will soon have killed off the real elephants for their ivory tusks so a replacement is needed. Might as well use mammoths rather than modern elephants since the mammoths will have larger tusks, more ivory to harvest, more "tradition medicine viagra" to sell.

      • You know what, I wish you were right.

        There is little that I would enjoy more than seeing biological and ecosystem diversity empowered by the ignorant and foolish.

        The idea of a world where rainforests and rhinos are abundant as a direct result of stupid people putting their money into funding it makes me so giddy that my cynicism filter cuts in.

    • Re:so... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:37PM (#47061267)

      Umm.. 'cause we can?

    • Re:so... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:43PM (#47061323)

      why are they doing this?

      Why not? Where elephants live, they are a keystone species [wikipedia.org]. They preserve the savanna by knocking down trees, and they dig waterholes that are used by many other animals. Once they are gone from a region, the entire ecosystem can drastically change. It is likely that mammoths had a similar effect in the arctic.

      • Indian elephants..

        You're describing African elephants.

        • With all due respect, what you said is correct but unrelated to his point. He was saying mammoths could have an important effect in the arctic region. You may not agree with what he says, but at least read it before replying!
          • With all due respect, Indian elephants don't seem to have the effect on their local ecosystem that African elephants do.

            Mostly because they've been domesticated thoroughly, unlike the African elephant.

            No, we're not going to be releasing Mammoths (even fake ones) into the wild. Because they'd essentially be an invasive species anywhere we dropped them, and screw up what ecosystem we released them into.

            • by ultranova (717540)

              No, we're not going to be releasing Mammoths (even fake ones) into the wild. Because they'd essentially be an invasive species anywhere we dropped them, and screw up what ecosystem we released them into.

              Does it matter? With climate change, the arctic regions are already screwed. Adding variables will simply give them a better chance of finding a new balance once the dust settles.

            • by queBurro (1499731)
              but... these aren't small cane toads, rabbits, foxes etc foolishliy introduced into Oz, these are great big things. If they got out of control we could bulls-eye them in our T-16's!
            • With all due respect, Indian elephants don't seem to have the effect on their local ecosystem that African elephants do. Mostly because they've been domesticated thoroughly, unlike the African elephant.

              You are both correct here, and utterly irrelevant.

          • by Reziac (43301) *

            I expect the effect would be rather like that of feral pigs.

      • If we have Mammoth DNA why take parts of it? Why not just clone the entire creature? If there are gaps in the DNA string could we not fill them with elephant DNA?
        • by 1u3hr (530656)
          That would be replacing thousands of elephant genes with identical, possibly damaged, mammoth genes, instead of just the few that are different.
      • by T.E.D. (34228)

        Why not? Where elephants live, they are a keystone species [wikipedia.org].

        That's because they have lived there for millions of years, so the rest of the species in their environment have had plenty of time to adapt ways to deal with the destruction they cause. We have another word for "keystone species" when they are dropped into a different environment that hasn't any adaptations to deal with them: Invasive species [wikipedia.org].

    • Because the current elephant steak is lean and overcooks easily, the extra layer of fat being the operative advantage. Why eat a dry steak?

      And don't get me started on the wooly hair... there won't be much of it at first, but they'll be more than a few 1st class passengers on Kuwait Airways willing to snuggle down with a trademarked Ultra Wooly Throw.

    • by wulper (788005)
      because they can?
    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

      To piss off the whiny Michael Crichtons still left in the world.

    • Re:so... (Score:4, Informative)

      by flyingsquid (813711) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @06:18PM (#47061587)

      The whole plan seems pretty sketchy. You can't just create a mashup of two distantly related animals and automatically expect to get something viable out of the mix. Mammoths and Asian elephants aren't actually that closely related- African elephant, Asian elephant, and mammoth are thought to have diverged around six million years ago, so mammoths are about as close to Asian elephants as chimps are to humans.

      Hybridization can result in improved fitness if the parents aren't too distantly related. However, the more distant the relationship between the parents, the less likely the offspring are to be viable. Humans and Neanderthals split around 600,000 years ago and were able to successfully interbreed. However, horses and asses split around four million years ago. The offspring- mules and hinnies- are healthy, but they are either sterile or have reduced fertility. Breeding more distantly related animals produces non-viable offspring.

      The article does mention that there have been hybrids between Asian and African elephants, which are slightly more distantly related than Asian elephant and mammoth. What the article neglects to mention is that the only known example of an African-Asian hybrid died several weeks after birth; there are other reports of hybrids being born but strikingly no reports of any surviving. This suggests that mixing mammoth and Asian elephant DNA is going to produce an unhealthy or non-viable offspring.

      • by aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @07:41PM (#47062149)

        What you're talking about is basically natural crossbreeding, not the type of genetic engineering that involves modifying the DNA itself of an organism. By "natural" I include such mechanical techniques as artificial insemination, extracting the sperm and eggs from mature adults and mixing them up. With natural crossbreeding you get the whole shebang, you let nature decide which genes become active and dominant. In theory, with DNA level genetic engineering you can specify which traits you want to get. I'm not saying this is a good thing, only that you can potentially get more control by "editing" (the word used in the article) the genes that simpy mixing the semen and egg of two different species.

      • It doesn't make me angry that people have tried to create greater biological diversity, it makes me sad that they have failed. If they fail, then I will be sad, but if they succeed then I will be happy that the world holds something amazing which might help lead to the development of a world where rhinos and mammoths contribute to something even better: a world where the mistakes of our ancestors can be mended.

      • So what you're saying is, mammoth and elephant DNA just won't splice?
      • by Kjella (173770)

        I think you're being way too pessimistic, while jumping the gap in one generation might be too much artificially introducing a handful of mammoth genes per generation would surely produce some viable offspring that are closer to the real thing than the last generation. Think of it as a very specific breeding program where we aren't just choosing the traits we want we're actively pushing them through genetic manipulation. It's not a matter of natural selection, it's unnatural selection all the way. If you lo

      • by JustNiz (692889)

        Regardless of whether it is even possible or not, the whole reason for trying this at all is not self-evident to me.

  • Really though, we're trying to genetically resurrect an animal that died off likely due to human depredation and the end of the ice age. Now there are 7 billion MORE humans and the earth is getting warmer.

    Way to jam a genetically square peg into a round hole.

  • Where's my elephant? - Bart Simpson

  • Finally! (Score:3, Funny)

    by nospam007 (722110) * on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:31PM (#47061185)

    One step closer to the egg-laying wool-milk-pig.

  • by tulcod (1056476) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:35PM (#47061237)

    When Intel buys or invents some kind of a new chip process, everyone applauds. When engineers use 3D printing to save a crippled boy's life, everyone celebrates technology. Stick an arduino in a tumor and people scream in ecstasy.

    But when the item of cloning comes in the news, suddenly people back away and ask what it's all good for. Because us humans are not allowed to mess with that.

    Come on people. We invested thousands of years trying to understand the tricks of physics and evolution. We have now got to a stage where we can apply these tricks ourselves and see what we can make of the world.

    Will it turn out for the better? Absolutely nobody knows. But telling scientists not to mess with this takes us back to the middle ages, where scientific incentives were influenced heavily by religious and cultural beliefs.

    Let us show ourselves that we no longer need that. This is the time to end that society of religion and culture. Messing with life, and bringing back the extinct, those are exactly the kind of things that go against all rules of religion that we have adhered to for the past x thousands years. Humans are the new god on planet earth (and beyond?).

    • by MrL0G1C (867445)

      Because if we fuck up playing with genetics we could wipe out the human race overnight. Or create species that we can't get rid of and end up replacing good species that we want.

      I'm waiting for T-Rex island and dodos, they look cool. but no more... except triceratops.

      • by PPH (736903)

        Or create species that we can't get rid of and end up replacing good species that we want.

        Not a problem. They make this sticky paper you can leave around. Come back in a while and all the mammoths will be stuck to it. Then just throw in garbage.

      • by russotto (537200) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @08:16PM (#47062351) Journal

        Or create species that we can't get rid of and end up replacing good species that we want.

        Not to worry, come winter.... OH SHIT THAT DOESN'T WORK WITH MAMMOTHS!

      • We're already doing things that could wipe out the human race overnight. We're already dealing with pythons in the Everglades and zebra mussel epidemics. We've wiped out mammoths, passenger pigeons and very nearly the rhino.

        If we can take steps toward showing the world what we've lost by introducing something that will demonstrate how valuable the species we've wiped out were, then I'm a happy camper. (I'll be camping in a kevlar tent with my rifle handy if we manage to reintroduce dire wolves and saber-too

      • Or create species that we can't get rid of

        This is why you start with Mammoth. It's not like you are going to misplace them, or walk out our BSL2 with one stuck to our shirt. And we know they are habitat limited and that we can hunt them to extinction.

        But seriously, we genetically engineer lab mice and rats all the time, even hybridising them with human genes, and no-one bats an eyelash. This is the same process, just using elephants with specific mammoth genes.

    • by anarkhos (209172)

      Wow, check out the hubris on this guy

    • In all of your examples where people are happy with technology we understand the science and have had time to come to grips with the consequences of our actions. However that is not the case when we blindly throw genes from one species into another. Just because we have the ability to do something doesn't mean that we have the knowledge to use it appropriately.

      • However that is not the case when we blindly throw genes from one species into another. Just because we have the ability to do something doesn't mean that we have the knowledge to use it appropriately.

        Except the technology being used here is the same as is routinely used to genetically engineer lab animals with genes from other species, even (and especially) human genes, in order to explore gene functionality.

        The only difference is that it's using elephants with mammoth genes, instead of rats, mice, pigs, dogs, monkeys, etc, with human or jellyfish genes. It even sounds like they've mapped the function of the first three genes they've chosen, and they've started in a cell culture to test their technique.

    • by binarstu (720435)

      Although you seem to think that the debate about genetic experimentation is nothing more than a conflict between science religion, I assure you that is not the case.

      "Messing with life", as you call it, has an incredible potential for doing harm if approached carelessly. It doesn't take much imagination to realize this, either: synthetic infectious agents, engineered organisms that displace natural diversity, and so on.

      You state, "Humans are the new god on planet earth (and beyond?)." If you really bel

      • by radtea (464814) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @07:48PM (#47062181)

        "Messing with life", as you call it, has an incredible potential for doing harm if approached carelessly. It doesn't take much imagination to realize this, either: synthetic infectious agents, engineered organisms that displace natural diversity, and so on.

        You've missed the GP's point, and created an instance of his observation.

        There is almost nothing we do that doesn't have "an incredible potential to do harm", and ubiquitous computational intelligence is one of the most obvious candidates for that fear going... yet hardly anyone is afraid of it.

        Ubiquitous computational intelligence (UCI) has the potential to put everyone under constant observation, including position tracking. It has the potential to serve ads to you in your sleep, monitor your caloric intake, keep track and report your alcohol consumption, your masturbation habits... everything. It's Orwell's telescreens on steroids.

        Yet the response to such things on /., while sometimes somewhat skeptical, is mostly positive. Relatively minor messing with the genome of some fairly rare creature, on the other hand, brings out the panic, with flat-out bizarre, anti-Darwinian statements like "these things died out for a reason" (posted by an AC above, who makes points similar to yours.)

        Sure messing with genomes carries risks, but they are comparable to the risks we take with all kinds of technological development, and yet for some reason people seem a lot more sensitive to them. It may not be explicitly religious, but it sure isn't rational.

        • by binarstu (720435) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @11:07PM (#47062999)

          And you've missed my point. Perhaps I didn't explain myself well.

          I absolutely do not disagree that plenty of people have an irrational fear of genetic technologies. Nor do I disagree that we have lots of other ways to screw the world up (you mention the example of massive automated surveillance). And I wasn't arguing that we shouldn't try to resurrect a mammoth.

          The GP seemed to me to be making the argument that 1) negative reaction to "messing with life" is because of antiquated religious sensibilities; and 2) we're gods now, so we should just do whatever the heck we want. I don't find either part of that argument compelling. As for part 1, casting any and all opposition to unbridled genetic experimentation as nothing but religious or cultural fanatacism is a straw man argument, pure and simple. There are lots of very rational reasons to proceed cautiously with certain kinds of genetic experimentation (and plenty of scientists agree with me). Why part 2 is wrong shouldn't require any further explanation, and other commenters have already addressed it.

    • by PPH (736903)

      But when the item of cloning comes in the news, suddenly people back away and ask what it's all good for. Because us humans are not allowed to mess with that.

      And then there's the people who buy SUVs and have them lowered. What's up with that?

      Don't worry about it. Haters gonna hate.

    • I have no problem with reviving lost species, though more recent ones might be a better fit. There is plenty of cold arctic tundra where mammoth could live though they might have to share with starving polar bears due to global warming. What you should be scared of is someone genetically modifying apes by adding human DNA, for the purpose of breeding factory workers that can be owned instead of getting paid.
    • You seem to presuppose it's better to judge by appearances (i.e. science) than personal resolve (i.e. religion/spirituality).

      That is the very definition of superficiality.

      Only on \. could that be construed as persuasive.

      Science was hampered in the middle ages mostly by bad economics (government/monarchical ownership of everything) and picked up dramatically during the commercially-initiated industrial revolution.
  • by Schaffner (183973) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @05:37PM (#47061265)

    I for one welcome our new hybridized mammoth overlords!

    Come on, you know you wanted to post this first.

  • That would be way cooler than a fat hair elephant

  • Just let me know when I can buy a mammoth steak for the BBQ. Sounds tasty. :P

  • Global Warming (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Maybe they should ask the elephants if this is a good idea before they strap on a wool coat to their DNS.

    • That is precisely what I was thinking... Global warming... making elephants more resistant to cold... They are going the wrong way... It seems like the are doing it just to do it and not for a real reason to do it.
    • by Tablizer (95088)

      We have to make elephants into corporations to give them such rights.

    • Maybe they should ask the elephants if this is a good idea before they strap on a wool coat to their DNS.

      Yeah, but have you ever seen an elephant in a bikini! Shudder ....

    • by operagost (62405)

      Maybe they should ask the elephants if this is a good idea before they strap on a wool coat to their DNS.

      The fact that so many sites still use BIND 8 makes me shiver.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    For Global Warming!

  • We're experiencing a global warming trend, and you want to resurrect a species of large mammal that was adapted to cold climates?
  • by CanadianMacFan (1900244) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @07:15PM (#47061993)

    And they sue you when it tramples your house.

  • For the first pot head to show up in a home-spun woolly mammoth sweater.
  • Or Woolly Shit!! This should be interesting. Hybrid walking giants!
    • Hybrid walking giants!

      A gas/electric powered wooly mammoth. Soon Tesla will come out with an electric only model. Progress! Science!! :))

  • by clovis (4684) on Wednesday May 21, 2014 @09:41PM (#47062697)

    They're already working on the solution of a runaway mammoth population:

    http://news.nationalgeographic... [nationalgeographic.com]

  • I do remember reading reprints of this quite prescient April 1st article 30 years ago.

                    http://www.textfiles.com/humor... [textfiles.com]

  • [Flintstones] Can't wait for that mammoth burger.
    • [Flintstones] Can't wait for that mammoth burger.

      [Murphy] I'm not cookin' no $@#$ brontosaurus burgers! This ain't the $@#$ Flintstones, Gus! Look at Charlie standing over there with 3rd degree burns

  • How do these experiments benefit mankind, other than manufacturing a new zoo attraction?
  • Didn't we learn a lesson from this from a movie once?
  • The geneticist works quietly at some titrations, making small adjustments and jotting down notes in his notebook, it's late, the geneticist hot caught up in a task and lost track of time. Suddenly, Jeff Goldblum appears behind him and gently places his hands on the scientists shoulders. "Oops, didn't mean to frighten you." He says as his right hand snakes down into the pocket of his black leather jacket. He extracts a small dropper filled with water, slowly raises the dropper just above the geneticists
  • ...engineer an ape by modifying human DNA to have hair all over its body. Sounds like pretty much the same idea.

Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious animal on earth.

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