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Earth Science Technology

Woolly Mammoth On Verge of Resurrection, Scientists Reveal (theguardian.com) 169

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The woolly mammoth vanished from the Earth 4,000 years ago, but now scientists say they are on the brink of resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of genetic engineering. Speaking ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston this week, the scientist leading the "de-extinction" effort said the Harvard team is just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be programmed into an Asian elephant. "Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo," said Prof George Church. "Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We're not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years." The creature, sometimes referred to as a "mammophant," would be partly elephant, but with features such as small ears, subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood. The mammoth genes for these traits are spliced into the elephant DNA using the powerful gene-editing tool, Crispr. Until now, the team have stopped at the cell stage, but are now moving towards creating embryos -- although, they said that it would be many years before any serious attempt at producing a living creature.
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Woolly Mammoth On Verge of Resurrection, Scientists Reveal

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  • by muecksteiner ( 102093 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @03:09AM (#53884503)

    The only bit I don't quite understand is why they don't piece together some completely mammoth DNA, and try to grow that in an artificial uterus? What would the additional complications be, beyond hacking together an elephant-mammoth hybrid like they propose?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It is possible that they don't have the complete, undamaged mammoth DNA. Also, the cellular organs and other parts do have to come somewhere, or recreated. That is the amazing part of the cellular theory: all current life is a continuum from the first cell. It would be interesting to have an artificial uterus with all the roles of viruses, hormones and others factors replicated, but as of now it probably doesn't exist.

    • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @03:40AM (#53884589) Journal
      mammoth DNA is pretty badly broken up. Chances are they are going to use these hybrids as models to figure out which genes of the mammoth cell lineage is viable.
      • by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @09:26AM (#53885511)

        mammoth DNA is pretty badly broken up

        Just use some frog DNA to fix the bad parts.

      • by Enigma2175 ( 179646 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @11:29AM (#53886243) Homepage Journal

        Really? There have been instances of almost intact mammoths being found in receding glaciers, how bad does DNA get degraded from freezing? Heck, in this find [cnet.com] blood was actually flowing out of the carcass as it thawed. If we can sequence the neanderthal genome using much older samples I don't see a reason we couldn't sequence the much more recent mammoth genome.

        • I think that most of those were over 10,000 years old. As such, you have pressure, and radiation that will switch bonds. Hopefully, by building a hybrid they can figure out which genes are viable and which are not.
        • how bad does DNA get degraded from freezing?

          Not as badly as it gets degraded by being not frozen. Or, for the worst of all worlds, try having your sample cycle between below freezing and above freezing on a daily basis for a week or so as the winter starts to bite and the sun gets weaker. (Yes, creationist bullshitters do claim evidence for a mammoth which was frozen to death with fresh pasture in it's mouth ; even granting that for one example, the thousands of other examples cover a wide range of taphono

    • The only bit I don't quite understand is why they don't piece together some completely mammoth DNA, and try to grow that in an artificial uterus? What would the additional complications be, beyond hacking together an elephant-mammoth hybrid like they propose?

      I think because there is no confidence that we have an error-free mammoth genome. So it seems much more likely that modifying the elephant genome will yield success.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, but you can't turn a Lada into a Lamborgini, no matter how much you pound the sheetmetal.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Yeah, but you can't turn a Lada into a Lamborgini, no matter how much you pound the sheetmetal.

          Then you are not pounding the sheetmetal right. -BTW Lamborghini's are fiberglass.

      • It still begs the question. Why? It's a waste of money and resources that could be focused on actually contributing to society. "Because we can" is not a good justification.

        • by Merk42 ( 1906718 )
          This sounds like when a new version of {software} comes out.
          "They didn't do what I think is important, therefore all their effort is wasted."
        • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Friday February 17, 2017 @10:05AM (#53885691) Homepage Journal

          Why? It's a waste of money and resources that could be focused on actually contributing to society.

          The technique they are using — CRISPR — is what we just discussed [slashdot.org] as applicable to humans. If splicing mammoth into elephant yields a viable organism, some day it may be possible to splice useful features of Neanderthals and other extinct human species, or even apes into humans — yielding strength [wikipedia.org], resistance to diseases, or adaptability to uncomfortable conditions (think Antarctica or even Mars).

          Eugenics became a dirty word because of Nazis [wikipedia.org], who would improve humanity by killing off the "degenerates". But there is nothing wrong with improving the human stock per se... For example, Heinlein in "Beyond This Horizon" [wikipedia.org] describes a society, where this was done successfully — while also explaining, how it can be done (very) wrong as well.

          • That's an interesting thought- I hadn't thought of giving humans genes for cold-hardiness, but certainly, even beyond increased Mars/Antarctica survivability, cold-resistant humans would require less energy costs in deep space exploration. If we ever got advanced enough to send a ship off to another star system, having humans that have lower energy requirements could allow us to send more humans further.

          • by mark-t ( 151149 )

            Eugenics became a dirty word because of Nazis, who would improve humanity by killing off the "degenerates". But there is nothing wrong with improving the human stock per se..

            Perhaps not, except for the fact that if you *don't* "kill off the degenerates", then they will continually breed with your so-called "improved stock", defeating any attempts to improve them over the course of generations, unless you legislate mandatory sterilization for absolutely everyone that does not fit certain criteria, which its

            • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
              Gattaca had the degenerates and improved stock living in (relative) harmony, and no genocide needed. That Eugenicists can't consider any option other than genocide is what gave eugenics a bad name, not the Nazis, just one in a long line of unethical eugenicists.
            • by mi ( 197448 )

              if you *don't* "kill off the degenerates", then they will continually breed with your so-called "improved stock"

              Not if the genomes of the new embryos are edited with the same vigor and propaganda cover as vaccinations are done today...

              Even more conservatively, instead of editing, Heinlein's book describes the method, whereby the child conceived by two parents will not be a hitherto impossible "superhuman" — he'll just be the best possible child these two parents can conceive. Human stock then improve

          • or adaptability to uncomfortable conditions (think Antarctica or even Mars).

            Oh, sigh. So which organism are you going to lift genes from which is comfortable (i.e. can breed) at Martian temperatures and pressures?

            • by mi ( 197448 )

              So which organism are you going to lift genes from which is comfortable (i.e. can breed) at Martian temperatures and pressures?

              It does not have to be comfortable enough to breed — or even survive — unaided by other technology. But if it can be made more comfortable than an unmodified human — requiring a lesser oxygen tank and/or a lighter suit and/or an easier-to-build shelter — that'd be a win already.

              • It does not have to be comfortable enough to breed â" or even survive â" unaided by other technology.

                Then what is the advantage over living in an artificial environment in space? Apart from that of living at the bottom of a deep gravitational well? Of being, as the saying goes, a hole man?

                • by mi ( 197448 )

                  Then what is the advantage over living in an artificial environment in space?

                  Creating such an artificial environment in space "from scratch" may be much harder, than using the readily-made planet. The colonists may need to adapt it, but they may also find it easier to make some adaptations to themselves — meeting the planet half-way, as it were.

                  If Escimo and Inuit and related peoples adapted to the environment unlivable for their African predecessors naturally [sciencedaily.com] — even if they still can not live

                  • Creating such an artificial environment in space "from scratch" may be much harder, than using the readily-made planet.

                    Do you have any idea of the gigatonnages of material needed to terraform a planet like Mars to Everest-summit-at-the south-pole levels?

                    For Mars, to bring it up to an average atmosphere that is merely lethal (0.1 bar - your tears would boil - followed by your blood) you'd need to deliver around 800kg of suitable gasses per square metre. That's around 2*10^19 kg for the whole planet. Someth

        • by gnick ( 1211984 )

          It still begs the question. Why? It's a waste of money and resources that could be focused on actually contributing to society.

          Just think of the money we'll make selling hunts!

          • Ooo, yeah, let's see them do that right. Here's your spear, here's your rock...now you stand over here with the long spear. Plant the end right there...

        • Because sled dogs aren't good for heavy loads. Because environmentalists don't want you hunting polar bears.

          More seriously, a wide ranging ability to edit genes is one of the most powerful advances for humanity, ever. Although it ranks below the level of language, it is on the level of fuel-powered engines.

          This sort of experimentation on humans would be widely decried. To safely make major genetic changes to a human, first requires the sort of experiments that make a wooly mammoth.

        • Because mammoth steaks probably taste delicious. Why do you think they were hunted before.
        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          Are you one of those people who insists we don't investigate rape because there are murderers who haven't been caught?

          You are assuming a zero sum game when none exists. Embryo creation has no overlap with cancer research, yet re-sequencing of large complex mammals could end up curing cancer. Why do you not want cancer cured?

          Would you feel better if they called it "Animal trials to cure human cancer!"? Because that's one of the (near-infinite) uses. But they have to get it working well first. And "ani
        • They should put that research into something much more profound... Like making an elephant or mammoth with 5 asses.

      • There's no such thing as a "perfect genome." We're all mutants [slashdot.org]. Some estimates are that the individual human has 60 mutations, other estimates put it as high as 200.
    • Maybe because artificial uteruses don't exist yet?
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      and try to grow that in an artificial uterus

      First you need to invent an artificial uterus, then you you need some complete mammoth DNA, then you can grow your mammoth.

      • But we are at the point now that if we throw enough money at something we can make virtually anything we want. That's what I think. =)

        • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @10:02AM (#53885679)
          Oh yes, the end of Science. Thank you Lord Kelvin.
          For one thing we still don't have a clue how owls fly so silently but there are some people working on it with very simplified wing models, so relatively simple stuff from the world around us is still outside our grasp without a lot of time, effort and dead ends. The idea of "that if we throw enough money at something we can make virtually anything we want" is an incredibly toxic cargo cult piece of shit that you should cure yourself of if before it backfires on you (that's if it wasn't an attempt at a joke). I've met people that disconnected from reality and they kept lurching from one fuckup to the next.
          Dreaming is great, taking fantasy from granted not so much.
          • First of all, bullshit: https://asknature.org/strategy... [asknature.org] And secondly, it is really odd that you choose something like an owl wing to base your scientific musings off of, rather than the fantastic examples of us throwing enough money at something and figuring it out, such as nuclear weaponry or traveling to the moon. Money = resources. If you throw enough resources at science, you will indeed see results. The vast majority of scientific achievements have been from people who knew what they wanted to do
            • And secondly, it is really odd that you choose something like an owl wing to base your scientific musings

              Not really - it was reported recently and also outlines that we do not have a universal equation for airflow (no matter how much money has been thrown at it for over a century).

              As for your link, it's the starting point of the people who are trying to understand owl's silent flight so that they can make aircraft quieter. It's a very very long way from where we are now to being able to WORK OUT WHY and ma

    • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @04:48AM (#53884771)

      As others have already said, we don't really have a whole, undamaged genome for a mammoth, but an artificial uterus is technologically still very far beyond our capabilities. The only option is to implant the fetus in an existing animal, in which case there may be compatibility issues - the fetus has to be a reasonably close match to the mother, immunologically speaking. A hybrid may be close enough for it to be feasible, and perhaps it is possible to get closer and closer to 100% mammoth by adding more and more for each generation, who knows.

    • by Quakeulf ( 2650167 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @05:19AM (#53884835)
      You mean why not make a wholly wooly mammoth?
    • There is no good enough DNA to do a cloning of an original mammoth - and also if we did, it would not have any mates. The best chance is to identify the critical genetic variants that made the mammoth adapted to its niche, insert those in elephant. This mutated / genetically engineered elephant would fill the same function and "walk and talk" like the original mammoth - but with the advantage that one can breed with elephants to make more of them. People may think that this is a bit of a strange effort - t
      • And think of the possibilities: mammoth steaks in every restaurant! My mouth waters at the thought....

        Note, for the humour-impaired, that the above was a joke. Now if we were to re-engineer the Dodo (tastes like chicken!), then we'd be cooking....

        • by Muros ( 1167213 )

          And think of the possibilities: mammoth steaks in every restaurant! My mouth waters at the thought....

          Note, for the humour-impaired, that the above was a joke. Now if we were to re-engineer the Dodo (tastes like chicken!), then we'd be cooking....

          You jest, but according to this [sciencedaily.com], mammoth was indeed the meat of choice for our neolithic ancestors.

    • George Church has a tendency to make slightly wild claims that sound reasonable in an effort to get media attention. He's likely saying "It'll be half elephant though" so he doesn't get written off as completely nuts. Prior to this, he held a secret science conference basically to say "We're going to be making whole genomes from scratch."

      Seems like the Elon Musk approach: he dangles something in front of the media that is both incredible sounding yet realistic at the same time. And he's done a lot of imp
    • What I don't understand is where they think a woolly mammoth is going to live. It's not like the arctic and sub-arctic habitats are going to be around long enough to repopulate them. Shaving them to keep them cool is going to expose them to increased rates of skin cancers. Maybe air-conditioned zoos, paying the bills by harvesting those huge tusks.
    • Mainly that we don't have any artificial uteruses (uterii?). Even if they had completely intact mammoth DNA - or could create it - it'd be a lot easier to try to put it in an elephant uterus.
  • Seems like we've seen a lot of these over the last few days.

    • Seems like we've seen a lot of these over the last few days.

      Yes, they've invented a machine that cranks them out.

  • ..... to a real life skyrim experience

  • Seriously, the Mammoth is larger than a n African Elephant. So, it actually makes sense to use that for the base.
    Still, this is going to be interesting. Hopefully, this will pick up Asian's nice demeanor. THough thinking about it, maybe the reason why the mammoths were hunted to extinction is their demeanor was even easier going than an Asian Elephant's.
    • by geantvert ( 996616 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @03:57AM (#53884637)

      The answer is likely in there: http://news.nationalgeographic... [nationalgeographic.com]

      The relevant bit is "At that time African elephants branched off first. Then just 440,000 years later, a blink of an eye in evolutionary time, Asian elephants and mammoths diverged into their own separate species."

      • That makes sense. thanx.
      • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

        That's very interesting. Among other things, it implies that Mammoths and Asian elephants are closer related to each other than either is to African elephants (but not by much).

        Another way of putting this is that its probably more accurate to consider Mammoths as just another species of Elephant.

        There used to (in historic times) be another relatively small North African Elephant [wikipedia.org] species (Hannibal used them in his war with Rome), that is also now extinct. There were quite recently lots of island-based pyg

  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Friday February 17, 2017 @03:54AM (#53884629)

    As I read ion all the other articles, the result will be a hairy elephant with a beard, that's all.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    National Geographic reported that extinction rates are 1,000 times faster due to human activity[1]. So I predict that the woolly mammoth will be the first species to go extinct twice. #f1RST

    [1]: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/05/140529-conservation-science-animals-species-endangered-extinction/

    • The only way forward is to curb human activity by introducing breeding caps on growing populations to prevent them from overreaching into animal territory. This is in the interest of the entire rest of the world if we want a sustainable future.
      • by animaal ( 183055 )

        The problem there is that the populations in most western countries are already stagnant or even falling, so "breeding caps" would mostly apply to developing countries. There wouldn't be any political will to impose something like this.

        • There is no political will because those in control only seek destruction because they live day to day with no consideration for long-term effects.
  • Why this vanity project, whereas the same effort could probably save dozens of species from becoming extinct? If anything it will be used to argue against conservation; people with economic interests will say "we can always bring them back" just the same as they say "we can use technology to cool the climate" now.
    • Re:vanity project (Score:5, Insightful)

      by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @05:27AM (#53884859)

      Different people, different interests. If you would rather help existing species, go right ahead.

    • people with economic interests will say "we can always bring them back" just the same as they say "we can use technology to cool the climate" now.

      From where I'm sitting, I hear them saying "NO. NO. NOOOO. CLIMATE CHANGE NOT HAPPENING. NO! AND GAS PRICES AND JOBS! TAXES TAXES TAXES! EVIL!" and voters saying "Hmm... that sounds more reasonable than the scientists." Geoengineering and de-extinction are unnecessary arguments given that people already are being convinced by simple denials and short-sighted economic scare arguments.

      So I think you have it backwards. We need both technologies as backups because the dumb masses are too stupid to make the r

  • In a very broad sense, what's in it for me? Even thinner phones and tablets? Any other implications for tech geeks?

    Otherwise, WTF is a biology subject doing on /.?

    Not to stir things up, to cause a hostile atmosphere, or to troll in general. But biologists are among the most questionable programmers I've ever met. Messing things up with their fancy Human Genome Project stuff and with their readily available access to reproduction topics most /.ers can only dream of.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's news for NERDS dude. If you don't think this is at least interesting you can hand in your nerd card.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yet another idiot thinking this is solely a "tech geek site." Ignoring, of course, the fact that a) genetics is high tech, and b)many bio stories have been featured here since day 1.

    • I'd rather read about genetic modifications of mammoth DNA and elephants to try to reintroduce a species than see yet another phone/tablet/phablet story personally.

      There's more to be geeky about than just programming languages. Biology is cool. CRISPR is cool (and slightly scary).

      But ok, lets talk about how awesome vi is. Emacs is for losers. Am I doing it right?
  • ...so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Diana was the MIT student who wrote the April 1st article, "http://hoaxes.org/af_database/permalink/retrobreeding_the_woolly_mammoth". I remember laughing with it, and I've been laughing ever since because Diana gets more citations and calls about that joke article than about anything she's ever written professionally. And yes, *people keep citing it in scientific papers* as an example of successful breeding of an extinct species.

    I love Diana as a person, and this is what people will remember her for, no m

  • Remember, John Hammond started with a genetically engineered elephant too
  • by kbg ( 241421 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @07:51AM (#53885163)

    Hey I have an idea. Why don't we create a park on an island...we could call it Jurassic Mammoth Park or something...where mammoths roam free and you could go on safari tours to see them. What could possibly go wrong with that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Once they aren't in danger then can we play mad science and bring back the Mammoth, after making sure the Eurasian Tundra isn't gone and can support them.
    Next step, Dino chickens as pets please.

  • by famebait ( 450028 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @09:24AM (#53885499)

    The creature, sometimes referred to as a "mammophant,"

    Way to waste an opportunity.
    "Heffalump" FTW!

  • I'd read about these ideas a while back it and from what I read making the embryo would be far easier than implanting it, there were some issues with elephant wombs and narrow implantation window, as I recall. Reminds me of a Stephen Baxter book where some aliens recreated historically extinct Earth fauna by messing around with the genomes of their descendants, amongst other things.
  • ... she would have blessed us with them. This is surely the work of the Devil.

  • Why do this, so we can make it extinct again?
    In our current climate, especially one of a warming earth, I feel that humans ought to consider whether they're bringing an animal into the world to suffer a great deal... where will these live? Will they only live in enclosures and zoos?
    Mankind plays God a lot, and this feels like a strange next step.

    • This time we'll promise to shear them.

    • >Why do this, so we can make it extinct again?

      To practice resurrecting extinct species so we can rebuild biodiversity. To do so with an animal that catches the public's imagination so there is general enthusiasm for it.

      And finally, so we can all have mammoth burgers.

  • This is just vapourware, we've been hearing that the Mammoth can be resurrect using Elephant surrogates for years. I would love to see Mammoths roaming around, but I'll believe it when I see it.

  • by Nkwe ( 604125 ) on Friday February 17, 2017 @12:41PM (#53886767)
    While the science around this is indeed interesting, there are ethical questions beyond just those involved with gene editing. Specifically around if it is appropriate to risk reduction of one endangered population of animals to attempt to revive an extinct one.
  • The ice is melting, global temperatures are going up... It seems like the perfect time to create a creature with "subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood".

"Consequences, Schmonsequences, as long as I'm rich." -- Looney Tunes, Ali Baba Bunny (1957, Chuck Jones)

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