The science of cloning has been around for a while now but, so far, it has been relegated to cloning livestock and dead pets. The moral implications of cloning a human will likely keep that from being a possibility for a very long time to come, but when it comes to extinct animal species, scientists don’t really have that hang up. In a quest to make Michael Crichton’s worst nightmares come true, scientists are now one step closer to cloning the long-extinct woolly mammoth. Somebody put Jeff Goldblum on standby.
Right now the process of cloning an organism is still a little slapdash, but it works. By inserting a living cell into the cleaned-out ovum of another similar creature, you can get them to create a cloned version of the sample animal through a “normal” pregnancy. This process is called called “reproductive cloning.” What makes the process so hard is the fact that you end up going through a lot of cells from the donor organism to get one that will take, and therein lies the problem with cloning extinct species. To clone any species you need a living cell for donor material, but that can be in short supply when it comes to something that has been extinct for thousands of years.
According to Cosmos, the prospects of finding living cells for woolly mammoths may have just gotten a lot more favorable. A research team made up of Russian and South Korean scientists has recently found living cells in some frozen woolly mammoth flesh buried in the permafrost of eastern Siberia, one of the species’ last known habitats before they became extinct. It is the team’s goal to clone the long-extinct creature, and while the find may not provide enough cells to attempt cloning the animal, the fact that living tissue can survive for over a thousand years locked in permafrost (something once thought impossible) raises hopes that they could find a suitable sample relatively soon.
One of the biggest problems for the expedition may not be finding suitable cells to clone life from, but credibility. One of the members of the research team is South Korean bio-technologist Hwang Woo-Suk. While he was credited with the first cloning of a dog in 2005 (it was verified), he came under fire for faking research where he claimed to have cloned human stem cells in 2006. That doesn’t do much to inspire faith in his current endeavor, but then again, I suppose Hwang Woo-Suk can buy all of that credibility back with the money he could make opening up Woolly Park in a couple of years.