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Biotech Science

Scientists Optimistic About Getting a Mammoth Genome Complete Enough To Clone 187

Clark Schultz writes The premise behind Jurassic Park just got a bit more real after scientists in South Korea said they are optimistic they can extract enough DNA from the blood of a preserved woolly mammoth to clone the long-extinct mammal. The ice-wrapped woolly mammoth was found last year on an island off of Siberia. The development is being closely watched by the scientific community with opinion sharply divided on the ethics of the project.
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Scientists Optimistic About Getting a Mammoth Genome Complete Enough To Clone

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  • huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @06:23PM (#48406233)

    I don't understand... what would be unethical about this?

    • I don't understand... what would be unethical about this?

      Study up on how cloning works. You take a zygote (fertilized egg), then wipe its genetic code, replacing it with the desired genetic code. The ethics come into play int he wiping stage. If you believe that life begins at conception, you could easily view wiping the genetic code from a zygote as killing the (potential) life.

      • Re:huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 17, 2014 @06:38PM (#48406373)

        Well, yeah, but you wouldn't be using a human zygote for this. Seems like only the 3 craziest members of PETA in the world would have an ethical problem with this...

        • Well, yeah, but you wouldn't be using a human zygote for this. Seems like only the 3 craziest members of PETA in the world would have an ethical problem with this...

          The ones who think eating chickens is murder are probably paying attention to this.

        • by Matheus ( 586080 )

          The funny thing is most anti-cloning people don't have the slightest clue about that part of the process. They might protest that if they did! Most of the complaints I've heard are more of the "You shouldn't be playing God" on the religious side vs. "You shouldn't be introducing extinct species into our modern biosphere (Jurassic Park)" on the science side. I really haven't heard much banter that bothers with the specifics of how this is all accomplished.

          I say we really piss people off and clone this bea

        • Well, yeah, but you wouldn't be using a human zygote for this. Seems like only the 3 craziest members of PETA in the world would have an ethical problem with this...

          Are you saying it's ethical to abort animals?

          • Only if you eat the abortions.

          • How can you "abort" a fertilized egg that isn't even in a womb?
            • How can you "abort" a fertilized egg that isn't even in a womb?

              Abort in this sense means to end. You can abort fertilized eggs by destroying them, cooking them, etc. Abort doesn't mean to remove from the womb.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
            You've never eaten eggs? What do you think eggs are?
            • You've never eaten eggs? What do you think eggs are?

              The only fertilized eggs that I know people eat are balut. And, no, I don't eat balut.

          • Good question, do you eat eggs?

            I love chilled chicken embryo with all of the embryo's nutrients for my benefit, fried or scrambled.

            I also enjoy (and can tolerate) bovine mammary gland excretions with some milled and baked oats or corn (I'm a Kix kid).

            Ethics isn't questioned in these examples, they are food. What's worse, aborting chickens for fried eggs or taking the nutrition that was intended for a baby cow?

            I grew up raising a small number of cows and quite a few chickens for food. "Bessie" burgers will

            • I love chilled chicken embryo with all of the embryo's nutrients for my benefit, fried or scrambled.

              Do you actually go to the trouble of buying/acquiring fertilized chicken eggs? Because until fertilization, they're not embryos, they're just eggs.

              • He probably just has a chicken coop with a few hens and a rooster. Even some suburbanites do this since a back yard is plenty enough space for some chickens to run around as long as you supplement their diet.

              • When I was a kid the eggs had embryos. Nothing ruins a pancake breakfast like cracking an egg that has gestated for a week, with a partially formed fetus coming out. Happened a couple of times (we had 30+ hens and a rooster).

                I would make oatmeal instead at that point.

                My dad still keeps chickens, but he doesn't have a rooster so this isn't an issue anymore. He doesn't butcher them any longer, he just collects the unfertilized eggs.

                I loved raising chicks in the basement. I also enjoyed slaughter day, chic

        • People Eating Tasty Animals says hell yeah. I'm sure there's a big market for mammoth if we resurrect the species, and I'm sure nothing could go wrong, like them turning into velociraptors or something.

          Besides, just think of the absolutely ridiculous new cartridges you'll be able to buy. Shoulder-fired artillery, just like our ancient ancestors used to use on mammoth hunts. Flint spear, 1000 grain projectile flying at 4,000 fps, they're almost totally the same thing!

          And besides, if we resurrect an ice ag

      • Re:huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @06:40PM (#48406403) Homepage

        That's relevant to, but not the full story of, the ethical controversy over human cloning, but we're talking about mammoths. I don't think anyone's proposing that we insert mammoth DNA into human eggs.

        • That's relevant to, but not the full story of, the ethical controversy over human cloning, but we're talking about mammoths. I don't think anyone's proposing that we insert mammoth DNA into human eggs.

          Sounds like a military project. (Not all militaries would be willing to try this, but some certainly would.)

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          How about mammoth DNA into chicken eggs? Here's an elephant example that's close enough :)
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meet_the_Feebles
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Posting anonymously since I've voted on other posts: I don't think 99% of people would care that non-human cloning it erases a potential life. We end actual animal lives all the time for food, sport, or simply out of carelessness.

        Concerns about cross-species surrogacy (that could kill the mother, a species with problems of its own), creating social animals with no living members of the species to acculturate it, and of course, spending millions of dollars that could (arguably) be better spent preserving ext

        • Posting anonymously since I've voted on other posts: I don't think 99% of people would care that non-human cloning it erases a potential life. We end actual animal lives all the time for food, sport, or simply out of carelessness.

          Concerns about cross-species surrogacy (that could kill the mother, a species with problems of its own), creating social animals with no living members of the species to acculturate it, and of course, spending millions of dollars that could (arguably) be better spent preserving extant species all seem like more likely ethical concerns.

          I'm against ending animal life for sport, but support hunting for food and being good stewards of the land. I feel that animals deserve humane treatment - if you are going to harvest an animal for food, kill it in the most painless way reasonably possible.

      • Um, no. The ethical issues have nothing you do with this. They problem is bringing an animal into a world that no longer naturally supports it. So, it becomes only a lab curiosity with no ecological role. Plus, it's unknown how it would interact with the existing ecology were it to get into the wild.
        • Mammoths aren't so long extinct that they couldn't easily be reintroduced. The ecology just hasn't changed that much. Their numbers were greatly reduced by hunting, and the last few (probably) were a pigmy mammoth variant that died off on an isolated island. Create a breeding population, protect it from human predation, and find a place where there's likely to be enough food.
    • Re:huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 17, 2014 @06:31PM (#48406317)

      I don't understand... what would be unethical about this?

      Forcing an Asian elephant to be a "mother" to another species, one that might harm her.

      Forcing solitary existence on what appears to be a highly social species.

      • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) *

        I don't understand... what would be unethical about this?

        Forcing an Asian elephant to be a "mother" to another species, one that might harm her.

        Forcing solitary existence on what appears to be a highly social species.

        That, and often you'd need 100s of zygotes to create a few viable organisms that survive to adulthood.

        Excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org]

        For example, the cloned sheep Dolly was born after 277 eggs were used for SCNT, which created 29 viable embryos. Only three of these embryos survived until birth, and only one survived to adulthood.[11]

        I think it's still worthwhile... not getting 'ethics' confused with 'morality'. But anyone who was bothered by Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion may have an issue with this.

        • I don't understand... what would be unethical about this?

          Forcing an Asian elephant to be a "mother" to another species, one that might harm her.

          Forcing solitary existence on what appears to be a highly social species.

          That, and often you'd need 100s of zygotes to create a few viable organisms that survive to adulthood.

          Excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org]

          For example, the cloned sheep Dolly was born after 277 eggs were used for SCNT, which created 29 viable embryos. Only three of these embryos survived until birth, and only one survived to adulthood.[11]

          I think it's still worthwhile... not getting 'ethics' confused with 'morality'. But anyone who was bothered by Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion may have an issue with this.

          Well It is a highly social animal that could live with other related animals (Asian/African elephants). Like how we keep sheep and goats or lamas and alpacas, horses and donkeys and mules together.

          As for the many eggs needed things have improved since dolly. For example we can revert skin cells into a stem cell and change the stem cell into a egg now.
          (http://www.healthline.com/health-news/tech-researchers-make-sperm-and-eggs-from-adult-skin-cells-082613)

          If making a Asian elephant carry the mammoth fetus cou

      • Re:huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @08:34PM (#48407285)

        That's done daily by farmers everywhere. Where do you think mules come from?

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
      Apart from the "playing God" bit?

      Seriously I don't have a problem with it because our intentions are pretty good - we want to see if it can be done and we're curious about the animal. But I can see that some people especially the crazy fundies would get upset.

      • But I can see that some people especially the crazy fundies would get upset.

        A proper Jesus freak doesn't believe that animals have souls so there should be no ethical dilemma for them to get enraged over.

    • by hodet ( 620484 )

      Exactly, it takes away from the most important question. Would it be tasty.

    • by skids ( 119237 )

      The cloning could go horribly wrong yielding birth defects, or the animal could endure a lifetime of suffering due to factors like (spitballing here) not having compatible intestinal flora.

    • by tchdab1 ( 164848 )

      Straight splice their DNA onto corn genes, and grow the mammoths on the praries.

    • by h4x0t ( 1245872 )
      The unethical bit is that they will likely fuck it up a few times and make abominations that are in constant pain until they put them down.

      Have you never read science fiction?
    • I'm only speculating, but I'd guess that people think that it would upset the current ecosystem.

      Maybe "unethical" is the wrong word...again, only speculating
  • Ethics ?!? Hey, this could be better than bison burger.
    • I hear wooly mammoth is a little gamy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I hear wooly mammoth is a little gamy.

        20,000 years of freezer burn will do that I suppose.

        • Extinction was about 4000 years ago. Freezer burn is mostly a surface/dehydration effect. A thick chunk of meat completely coated with ice doesn't suffer freezer burn.
  • Unethical? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @06:26PM (#48406277)

    I'm curious about why one would consider this unethical? That nature had her shot and declared these animals unfit for habitation on the earth, perhaps? That this could open the door to more widespread tampering with genetics? We interfere with the "natural order" all the time, most especially when it comes to our own comfort and survival. I'm sort of curious why people would suddenly start worrying about bringing extinct animals back to life. I'll admit I haven't given this a lot of thought yet, but my initial reaction is that it seems like a fascinating opportunity if we can pull it off.

    Maybe someone that opposes this on ethical grounds could enlighten me.

    • A Woolly Mammoth killed my pappy.
    • Because they are mentally deficient and equate high-roading with worth.

    • Re:Unethical? (Score:5, Informative)

      by xigxag ( 167441 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @07:51PM (#48406999)

      Not saying I agree, but from a link in the article:

      Dr Herridge questioned "whether or not the justifications for cloning a mammoth are worth the suffering, the concerns of keeping an elephant in captivity, experimenting on her, making her go through a 22-month pregnancy, to potentially give birth to something which won't live, or to carry something which could be damaging to her. And all of those aspects... I don't think that they are worth it; the reasons just aren't there."

      • Thanks for posting an actual response to this!

        I feel that artificial insemination is essentially the same thing, and that's conventionally accepted, and even encouraged in everything from ranching to rescuing species. Would the author have the same qualms about inseminating the elephant to increase elephant numbers? I suspect not. The only difference with mammoths is that we extincted them thousands of years ago.

        The ethical concerns I would focus on (not that I am the arbiter of ethical concerns or anyth

    • I'm curious about why one would consider this unethical? That nature had her shot and declared these animals unfit for habitation on the earth, perhaps?

      Actually I understood that early humans had an large role in causing mammoths to go extinct. So, if anything, wouldn't it be unethical not to reverse the damage we caused? This is our first chance to revive a species which we probably caused to go extinct in the first place.

    • by brunes69 ( 86786 )

      It has less to do with ethics and more to do with being dangerous if this gets out of hand IMO. I have no qualms with the ethics of cloning a single mammoth. I have grave concerns with the idea of cloning and re-introducing an extinct species to the planet, regardless of if it is mammoths or sabre tooth tigers or anything else.

      • Rabbits, weeds, insects, and velociraptors can easily get out of hand. Giant, slow-breeding mammals are easily culled if needed. We've nearly wiped out entire species of large mammals before because of over-hunting. The dangers of them over-populating are probably about the same as the danger of modern elephants over-populating. That is, extremely low.

        Besides which, we've learned plenty of painful lessons about the dangers of releasing new animals into new territories. I don't think anyone (well, anyon

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      I'm curious about why one would consider this unethical?

      Didn't see a good answer to this, so I'll take a crack at it.

      The problematic issue I see is that there's no longer an ecosystem adapted to their presence to put them into. Perhaps you don't immediately see what problems it could possibly cause to reintroduce them to, say the Canadian plains, but people also didn't see how it could cause problems to introduce kudzu to the American South [wikipedia.org] or rabbits to Australia [wikipedia.org]. Both of those turned out to be an utter disaster.

      Their living cousins, the Elephants are known t

      • Was anyone seriously considering releasing them into the wild, though? That's not at all what I had in mind certainly. We well understand the danger of transplanting species at this point - I learned about feral pigs destroying Hawaii's rainforests many years ago. My parents live on a small lake, and the homeowners there have to battle foreign weeds annually that threaten to swallow up everything else. Yeah, many people, especially scientists, now well understand the dangers of throwing new species into

  • by origin2k ( 302035 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @06:27PM (#48406287)

    Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.

    --- Dr. Ian Malcolm

  • by DumbSwede ( 521261 ) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Monday November 17, 2014 @06:28PM (#48406297) Homepage Journal

    North Korea just anounced they've already cloned one (and T-Rex as well).

  • But seriously, it's like installing Linux on a 1990's Palm Pilot. Sure, you can probably pull it off, but wtf are you going to do with it after you give yourself a pat on the back? Is it really worth the investment? Can't you be spending your time doing something more productive?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Can't you be spending your time doing something more productive?

      Consider that any successful experience in cloning anything adds to our knowledge base about cloning. By perfecting cloning, we can do a lot more than just bring back extinct species. We could, for example, grow entirely new organs cloned from your body to replace damaged or failing ones, organs that could be transplanted into you without fear of tissue rejection. Further, the practice of being able to reliably modify cells at the genetic level can lead to all sorts of other benefits in medicine, biology,

      • Sure, I get that. I guess I'm just wondering why a Mommoth, as opposed to, I dunno, a human, is so valuable in a cloning exercise.

        • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @07:56PM (#48407041) Journal

          Sure, I get that. I guess I'm just wondering why a Mommoth, as opposed to, I dunno, a human, is so valuable in a cloning exercise.

          Part of the answer may be, you can make a lot of mistakes cloning a mammoth without people getting too upset.

          • +1. Thank you. People will be so excited to see a live Mammoth that if they fuck it up, they'll just think of it as a failed circus show, not a failed life.

        • by ihtoit ( 3393327 )

          because "they" are already talking about reducing the human population to 500 million by 2050.
          A paper came out just today talking about an immediate solution to dealing with two billion: insinuating live pathogens into vaccines (which they already do); now they're talking about inserting ebola genetic material into live influenza, engineering an AIRBORNE, HIGLY VIRULENT and 70% FATAL chimera which will absolutely solidify our position as the most self-destructive species ever to have occupied the universe.

          • by dbIII ( 701233 )
            Considering that most of the world economy relies on consumption so needs a lot of people for the rich and powerful to stay rich and powerful then I would suggest that your "they" have fuckall political power and are unlikely to ever get the resources to be a threat.
            Think about it - proposing something that is going to destroy the fortunes of both Republican and Democrat donors, not to mention the oil and gas profits of Russian kleptocrats and the export markets that fund the Chinese Communist Party. Which
          • by dave420 ( 699308 )
            You need help.
    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      Honestly I suspect that the amount of kids that would be amazed into heading for a life of science by this alone would make it worthwhile.

      Nothing captures kids imagination quite like dinosaurs, mammoths and such so whatever the direct scientific value, the value of increasing the amount of future scientists out there with the inspirational value of doing this is probably greater than anything in history, even more so than the moon landings I suspect.

  • by rleibman ( 622895 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @07:06PM (#48406605) Homepage
    We were around while these beasts roamed the earth, and may have had a hand in their disappearance to begin with. Given that our ancestors evolved to eat these animals, my personal theory is that Mammoth meat is perfect, and thus it's likely to be the tastiest meat there is. I for one, am looking forward to cloning enough of these that we could grow them for meat.
    • Given that our ancestors evolved to eat these animals

      We evolved in Africa which was not known for its large Woolly Mammoth population. While we did eat them, perhaps even to extinction, I don't think you can say that we specifically evolved to eat mammoths. It was more an opportunistic relationship: they were large chunks of fresh meat wandering through a frozen landscape and we were hungry.

      • We evolved in Africa, but we also evolved *after* Africa, and I guess we continue to evolve. Yes, I know that while we were in Africa we were not eating wholly beasts, but we certainly did for a long period during the last glaciation, that's what I was referring to. I'd say 30,000 years (or whatever) of eating Mammoth probably gave us a taste for them.
  • Elephants? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moof123 ( 1292134 ) on Monday November 17, 2014 @08:02PM (#48407077)

    It seems surreal that we are talking about resurrecting Mammoths while their close genetic kin are still in a pretty harsh decline. Perhaps we should be trying to store sequences of good cross section of the remaining elephants so that in some future century we can dust off the old thumb drives and bring them back with enough genetic diversity to properly re-introduce them somewhere.

    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      Or we could just increase the policy of using attack helicopters to hunt down poachers. It's win-win, the pilots get first class training in finding targets in a vast landscape using various sensing equipment, and the poachers are given something real to worry about.

      Some poachers have even been using helicopters themselves so there's also ample scope for air defence training there for fast jets and such too.

      That way we don't have to worry about them going extinct (and the massive knock on effects to their e

      • by Kinthelt ( 96845 )

        Or we could just increase the policy of using attack helicopters to hunt down poachers. It's win-win, the pilots get first class training in finding targets in a vast landscape using various sensing equipment, and the poachers are given something real to worry about.

        Some poachers have even been using helicopters themselves so there's also ample scope for air defence training there for fast jets and such too.

        That way we don't have to worry about them going extinct (and the massive knock on effects to their ecosystem) in the first place. You're killing two birds with one stone- dealing with the poaching problem whilst getting your military some real training that simultaneously does something useful. Far better than classic contrived military exercises that often bare little resemblance to the real thing and just burn resources for not much benefit.

        This has been a very successful policy in the countries that have attempted it thus far, and it should be ramped up. Turn poachers from the hunter who hunts illegaly with overwhelming force into the hunted that is hunted legally with overwhelming force and they soon stop.

        You're right. Ever since Norway implemented this policy, there hasn't been a single elephant death in their territory due to poaching.

  • But I think we all know it's going to turn out like this. [youtube.com]
  • I guess the Spanish king sponsors this effort?

  • Woolly mammoths didn't evolve until 60-someodd million years AFTER the K-T event which KILLED THE DINOSAURS! So just how exactly is cloning a frozen corpse going to help us clone something which has been petrified into ROCK over millions of years?

  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Tuesday November 18, 2014 @01:12AM (#48408569) Homepage Journal

    A team called Revive & Restore is in the process of cloning the extinct passenger pigeon [nytimes.com].

    They're getting close to finishing the passenger-pigeon DNA sequence. That's the easy part though, next they will have to inscribe the genome into a living cell and produce a viable embryo, and from that a living offspring.

    Keep in mind the passenger pigeon only became extinct in 1914, which is fairly recent compared to the wooly mammoth.

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