Fred Prouser / Reuters
Woolly mammoths could be coming to a park near you sometime before 2027, thanks to fundingfromPayPal founder and tech luminary Peter Thiel.
That’s according toa new book by Ben Mezrich called “Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive one of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures.”
The project to revive woolly mammoths has been going on for several years, but it gained new attention in Februarywhen a team of Harvard scientistssaidthey intend toresurrect thefurrycreature within a decade.
The woolly mammoth went extinct 10,000 years ago, andin reality, the scientistswouldn’t actually be bringing it back. Instead, they aim tocreatea hybrid animal using genetic material from an elephant and a woolly mammoth. To do that, they’d carefully combine a selection ofDNAfromboth creatures usinggene-editing technology Crispr, putthe fetus into an artificial embryo, and accio! Woolly elephant. Elephammoth. Mammophant.
Regardless of its name, the resultinganimal would essentially be an elephant withmammoth features like long, shaggy hair, subcutaneous fat, and blood uniquely adapted for frigidtemperatures.
Wikimedia CommonsMammoths aren’t the only animals that peoplewant to resurrect – now-extinct or threatened species of reindeer, bison, wolves, tigers, and horses are also on the list of potential candidates. The movement to “resurrect” these creatures isn’t limited to scientists, either; it’s become a pet project of people across the globe, including a Russian father and son whose Kickstarter-funded “Pleistocene Park” aims to recreatea “vanished ice-age ecosystem.”
Ethical debatesabout de-extinction projects are intense, with some scientists saying the animals could could help preserve endangered or threatened species and others saying it would destroy existing ecosystems.
Proponents say the project and others could help restore ecosystems and help fight climate change by bringing back plants like grasses and trees that suck up pollution. Other supporters say iconic resurrected animals could serve as a sort of “flagship species” which is used to encourage the public to protect the regions they represent.
But some scientists disagree. Tori Herridge, a paleobiologistat theNatural History Museum of London, is one of the scientists who examinedthe 28,000-year-old remains of a woolly mammothuncovered in Siberia in 2014. She wrote inThe Guardian that “cloning [a woolly mammoth]would be ethically flawed,” since we still don’t fully understand the role that many of these now-extinct animals once played in the wider ecosystem.
The problem sheraises, which has been pointed out by severalother researchers as well, is that wedon’t know how these creatures’ modern incarnationswould affect other animals, plants, and the planet as a whole.
“It is unclear still whether the mammoth steppe disappeared as a result of the loss of the mammoth or whether the mammoth disappeared because its habitat was lost, along with its ice age world,” Herridgewrote. “It’s a big gamble to put your climate-change mitigation hopes on a herd of woolly mammoths.”