Japanese Scientist To Clone Woolly Mammoth Within 5 Years!

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New techniques in cloning frozen mammals may allow scientists to bring back the mammoth. Image Credit: Charles Robert Knight/Wikimedia Commons

New techniques in cloning frozen mammals may allow scientists to bring back the mammoth. Image Credit: Charles Robert Knight/Wikimedia Commons

More than a decade after their first attempt, a team of Japanese scientists have announced that they will aim to clone a woolly mammoth in the next five years. Led by Akira Iritani, the team plans on taking mammoth DNA extracted from preserved corpses found in Siberia and inserting it into African elephant eggs that have had their DNA removed. If the insertion is successful, the eggs will be placed in an adult elephant and brought to term. Kinki University's Faculty of Biology Oriented Science and Technology tried to do exactly this three times previously, starting in 1997. Yet damage to mammoth cells due to extreme cold prevented their success. Now, another Japanese scientist, Teruhiko Wakayama of RIKEN, has developed a technique that allowed him to clone a mouse from a body frozen for 16 years. Iritani's group is hoping that this technique will provide the missing ingredient that allows them to succeed. Work to find suitable DNA has begun, and Iritani believes they could have a walking, breathing mammoth in just five to six years. Bring on the clones!

As we recently discussed, scientists have been pursuing cloning endangered and extinct species with middling success. Kinki University's attempts with mammoths have been no exception. Frost damage makes the DNA in many mammoth specimens mostly worthless. Or at least, that was the consensus earlier in the decade. Then in 2008, Wakayama's clone of a mouse dead and frozen for 16 years changed the rules. With mice, he was able to use DNA to create partially viable embryos, then use the embryonic cell DNA to create clones. Similar or modified techniques may allow Iritani and his team to take mammoth DNA previously considered too damage to be viable, and boot strap it into a clone.

According to the Daily Yomiuri, Iritiani and his colleagues have already begun to assemble a team of scientists from Japan, the US, and Russia to complete the 'Mammoth Creation Project'. They've asked zoos from around the world to donate eggs from African elephants after they die. Assuming a few years to find suitable mammoth DNA and adapt Wakayama's techniques for this experiment, and 600 days of gestation once the clone is implanted in an adult African elephant, we could have a mammoth birth in five years or so.

The re-creation of an extinct species has raised serious questions about the ethics of the experiment:

"If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed [the mammoth] and whether to display it to the public. After the mammoth is born, we'll examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors."
--- Akira Iritani, Daily Yomiuri, 2011

I'm of the opinion, however, that the rebirth of an extinct species is really only a matter of time. We've seen how the Mammoth Genome Project at Penn State is hoping to create their own woolly by modifying African elephant DNA. The Neanderthal Genome Project, or ancient human genome sequencing at BGI in China, could enable similar attempts for creatures much closer to ourselves. As our successes with cloning continue to mount, the chances for any of these teams to reproduce an extinct or endangered mammal will improve. Iritani's team in Japan may be unable to produce a mammoth in the next five years (they have failed before), yet the field of cloning is moving in that direction. Jurassic Park may be out of reach, but Pleistocene Park looks like it could be opening soon.

Discussion — 18 Responses

  • Taylor January 19, 2011 on 7:56 pm


  • Max January 19, 2011 on 8:38 pm

    You were officially the last source to cover this story. Great work guys.

    • Keith Kleiner Max January 19, 2011 on 8:43 pm

      We are proud to offer some of the best coverage of a given topic, even if it means we are not first to publish. If you want a site that always breaks the story first go elsewhere. If you want a site that you can trust, a site that takes it’s time and tries to get the story right, then stick around.

      • Serenity176 Keith Kleiner January 20, 2011 on 4:09 am

        I was a little surprised to read about this in BBC news before I saw it here, it seemed like the kind of news you would talk about.

        That said, I prefer good news to fast news, I’ll stick around.

  • Ivan Malagurski January 20, 2011 on 6:11 am

    Why? Do we really need mammoth?

    • Frank Ivan Malagurski January 20, 2011 on 3:19 pm

      Perhaps it could be a stepping stone in the direction of cloning Neanderthals.

      • Julmaass Frank January 21, 2011 on 12:11 am

        yeah but finding frozen tissue from a neanderthal somewhere in the middle of siberia… not very likely.

        I wonder if they would be able to introduce them to the wild. Could they not do that to recently extinct species? that could actually be something extremely constructive for certain animals that are important to ecosystems and humans. the only issue is whether there are similar species that could act as “surrogate mothers”

        hopefully the japanese don’t mess this one up like they did Godzilla 😛

        • Trublutopaz Julmaass February 11, 2011 on 4:52 am

          The found the frozen funeral remains of a Siberian princess a few years back. She was encased in wax and buried beneath the same type of bog that has preserved bodies in the UK.

      • Trublutopaz Frank February 11, 2011 on 4:51 am

        I am pretty sure I already work with a few…..

    • Rob Ivan Malagurski January 27, 2011 on 11:53 am

      почему? почему нет?

    • BMAN Ivan Malagurski March 14, 2011 on 5:01 pm

      YES WE DO. WHY NOt?

  • Anonymous February 1, 2011 on 12:52 pm

    I was a little surprised to read about this on BBC News, before I saw him here, he seemed the kind of news you want to talk.

  • Trublutopaz February 11, 2011 on 4:50 am

    Someone never watched Jurrasic Park…..

  • Justin February 23, 2011 on 2:15 am

    This is a beautiful animal that walked in my neighborhood not long ago. My four year old loves the mammoth and recently asked me if they will ever be here again. I said “God Willing”, If God wants them back, we will have them back. I had a hunch that God was about to provide the science. I am excited about your research and my son will be even more excited. Every year we go to the NYS museum to see one. We’d love to see them move.

  • BMAN March 14, 2011 on 4:59 pm

    my grandpa wants one for a pet

  • Chelsy March 16, 2011 on 5:19 pm

    Bringing back an extinct animal is really bad news, if it was too escape think of the eco-system, the dangers to the surrogate mom…… This is cruel!

  • Reza Mousavian January 22, 2013 on 5:27 pm

    Out of curiosity, why are they using African elephants as the surrogate and not Indian elephants? Perhaps they would have better success if they tried implanting both with Mammoth clone cells.

  • creativebiogene February 5, 2013 on 12:01 am

    Well thank you for resisting the obvious impulse to simply say “no.” We don’t know what the future holds.