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Scientists seek to revive woolly mammoth

posted 12 Apr 2012, 08:52 by Mpelembe   [ updated 12 Apr 2012, 08:53 ]

Russian scientists, in cooperation with counterparts in Japan and South Korea, have begun work on resurrecting the extinct woolly mammoth, using biological material recovered from Siberian permafrost to create a clone.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA (RECENT) (REUTERS) - Once the subject of novels and Hollywood blockbusters, the revival of animal species extinct for thousands of years might soon become reality.

Head scientist at Russia's Northeast Federal University (NEFU) Mammoth museum in Yakutsk, Semyon Grigoriev, told Reuters that scientists world-wide were coming to recognise the potential of cloning a mammoth.

"It's fully possible that in ten, fifteen or twenty years science will reach a frontier when the cloning of extinct animals will become possible. More and more specialists from around the world have begun allowing the possibility that cloning the mammoth is not only possible, but imminent," Grigoriev told Reuters.

In March of this year Russian and South Korean scientists signed an agreement to cooperate on joint research and work in an attempt to recreate the creature, which roamed North America and northern Eurasia before becoming extinct around 3,700 years ago.

Grigoriev told Reuters that he and his colleagues would accompany Korean scientists on a hunt for preserved mammoth parts in the northern Siberian region Yakutia.

"They're bringing mobile laboratories from Korea and are planning to start working on the selection and cultivation of biological material," he added.

Thaws in Siberian permafrost have uncovered the remains of several woolly mammoths. Scientists hope to use the recovered biological material, preserved in the frozen Siberian tundra, to clone the mammoth.

Japanese scientists from Kinki University in Higashi-Osaka have also been working with Yakutia scientists to revive the species, which evolved from hairless elephants in Africa and were slightly larger, partly due to a ten centimetre thick layer of fat under their skin which provided insulation from the extreme cold of their habitat.

Iritani Akira, a biology professor and leader of a mammoth cloning project at Kinki University, said securing well-preserved mammoth remains removed one of the last barriers to cloning extinct animals.

"The technology to extract and clone the nucleus of a cell already exists, but finding good quality samples, such as tissues, skins, muscles or bone marrow, has been the barrier in cloning prehistoric mammals."

Scientists working on the project are hoping to replace the nuclei of egg cells from an elephant with genetic material from a mammoth's somatic cells, allowing embryos with mammoth DNA to be produced and implanted into elephant wombs.

Sergei Fyodorov, the head of the NEFU Mammoth museum expository department, said that, while it was difficult to make predictions, he hoped the success of a mammoth clone could open the door to cloning other endangered animals.

"This (cloning the mammoth) could play a very good, positive role in cloning endangered animals, disappearing animals. But, even with the most optimistic prognosis, well, I won't start to give a prognosis - this is very difficult," Fyodorov told Reuters.

A live mammoth could be produced within 10 to 20 years, according to optimistic estimates by Grigoriev. One thing's for sure. It will be a mammoth task for the scientists involved.