History Podcasts

Are Scientists on the Verge of Resurrecting the Woolly Mammoth?

Are Scientists on the Verge of Resurrecting the Woolly Mammoth?

Every summer, groups of hunters head to the remote, uninhabited New Siberian islands in search of the elusive “white gold”—a perfectly formed tusk of a woolly mammoth—hidden in the thawing Arctic permafrost.

They are not only exploring the furthest reaches of the Arctic Ocean, but traveling back in time, carrying out a primordial quest for the tusks of the massive beasts that roamed the forbidding landscape in droves before going extinct 10,000 years ago.

Of course, there’s always the chance the hunters may stumble not just on a tusk or two, but on an entire set of mammoth remains, including fur, flesh and even oozing blood.

That’s what happened in 2013, when a team from Yakutsk, Russia, uncovered the almost-complete carcass of a young female mammoth buried in the permafrost on the New Siberian Islands. Not only were three legs, a majority of the body, part of the head and the trunk still relatively well preserved, but when the researchers began efforts to dislodge the animal’s remains, they noticed dark, sticky blood oozing from the carcass.

Carbon dating revealed that Buttercup, as she was dubbed, lived some 40,000 years ago. From her remains, including a vial of blood drained from her carcass, scientists hoped to extract living mammoth cells that will yield intact DNA—the missing link in modern scientists’ long-running quest to bring this ancient behemoth back from the dead.

In the new documentary film Genesis 2.0, Swiss documentarian Christian Frei and his co-director, Siberian filmmaker Maxim Arbugaev, follow the intrepid mammoth tusk hunters in the New Siberian Islands, as well as various scientists in the United States, Russia, South Korea and China who are working to bring the mammoth back to life in one form or another.

Traditional Chinese carvers make elaborate sculptures out of mammoth ivory, and first-class mammoth tusks can net the hunters tens of thousands of dollars on the international market, especially since China banned the import and sale of elephant ivory in 2016. Russia exported 72 metric tons of mammoth ivory in 2017, with more than 80 percent of it going to China.

For the Siberian mammoth hunters, finding a top-notch tusk to sell is the goal, of course—a lot of what they find is in poor condition—but it’s also a mixed blessing. In local culture, which has long considered the woolly mammoth a sacred beast, it is considered bad luck to touch mammoth remains, let alone remove them from the earth.

“The tusk hunters have very mixed feelings when they are lucky,” Frei says. “It feeds their families, and they're desperately hoping for this sheer luck. But when they do find the nice tusks, then they have these mixed feelings of being really afraid.”

Whatever the market value of a preserved ancient tusk is, it’s nothing compared to the scientific community’s high-stakes quest to resurrect the woolly mammoth, Jurassic Park-style. Since 2015, a team led by the renowned molecular engineer and geneticist George Church of Harvard University has been working to produce a mammoth-elephant hybrid, rather than a clone. They plan to do this through “synthetic biology,” or splicing the genes of a woolly mammoth with those of an Asian elephant, its closest living relative, which shares 99 percent of its DNA.

Then, of course, there’s the work going on at South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, headed up by the controversial veterinarian and cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk. Scientists there have already mastered the process of cloning your beloved pet dog—for a cool $100,000. Barbra Streisand is among the celebrities known to have had her dog cloned, and Hwang has even donated some experimental puppies for use as Russian police dogs.

But despite dedicated effort, scientists have not yet managed to clone a woolly mammoth, although they keep trying. In addition to the Sooam scientists, researchers in Russia are still searching for living mammoth cells within the remains of Buttercup and other recovered mammoth carcasses, but the nature of DNA itself poses a serious challenge to their quest.

“The mammoth is an iconic animal. I mean, who wouldn't want to see it?” Frei says of the cloning efforts. Yet he spoke with specialists who told him “postmortem DNA is decaying within hours sometimes. It's very delicate.”

Those looking to see the woolly mammoth’s return may want to pin their hopes to synthetic biology, rather than cloning: Within the next decade, George Church and his team expect to create the first mammoth-elephant hybrid. Their efforts aim not only to protect the endangered Asian elephant, but to combat global warming. By grazing on the Arctic tundra, the animals would expose the earth underneath to the cold air, keeping it frozen longer.

While turning back the climate change clock is a worthy goal, watching Genesis 2.0 helps make clear that if scientists are able to resurrect the long-extinct woolly mammoth, they aren’t likely to stop with just one prehistoric beast.

“The resurrection of the woolly mammoth is the first manifestation of something much bigger,” Frei says. “You can't say where this is all going, but it will be definitely the next big technological evolution.”

Woolly mammoth rising: can we bring extinct animals back to life?

Ben Novak wants to bring back the passenger pigeon. The last living specimen died in 1914, but they ran amok through 19th century America, leaving hundreds of cadavers and plenty of DNA to pull from. Novak already has a pretty good roadmap for how it should look, thanks to the nearly identical rock pigeon genome, published in January. From there, he'll introduce the new chromosomes into the sex cells of an egg-bound rock pigeon, and hopefully, a generation later, see a passenger pigeon grow up inside a rock pigeon egg. And just like that, the most famous extinction of the 20th century is undone. Like a magic trick, Novak will pull an extinct bird out of his sleeve.

Like a magic trick, Novak will pull an extinct bird out of his sleeve

It's a long shot, but he's not alone. This Friday saw the first TEDxDeExtinction, which brought together half a dozen different de-extinction cloning projects to the National Geographic building in D.C. First the bad news: we won’t be cloning any dinosaurs, thanks to quick disintegration of most DNA. (Experts peg the half-life at around 500 years.) But it's not all bad news. Hendrik Poinar of Ontario's Ancient DNA Centre made the case for the woolly mammoth, extinct for 3,400 years, but immaculately preserved in the arctic permafrost, providing a better DNA base than the passenger pigeon. Naturalist Michael Archer argued for bringing back the thylacine (or Tasmanian tiger), working from a fetal pup suspended in DNA-preserving alcohol. At the same time, he’s been working on resurrecting the gastric-brooding frog, and revealed on-stage that his team had successfully produced the first lab-born embryo of the extinct species. All that’s left is to find a surrogate that can carry it to term.

Much of the technology is already in place. The nuclear transfer process is much less exotic than it was seventeen years ago, when Dolly the Sheep arrived as the first successful animal clone. Prize cattle and racehorses are now routinely duplicated as a way to extend the breeding cycle. In cases where nuclear transfer doesn't work, scientists can use cell reprogramming to change regular cells into something that behaves like a stem cell, creating sperm and eggs from there. When there’s a live tissue sample to work from, as there is with the gastric-brooding frog, that's all the technology you need.

Ben Novak of Revive & Restore

For anything that's well and truly dead — like the mammoth or the passenger pigeon — there's a bit more work involved. Once an animal dies, the DNA starts to break apart almost instantly, so instead of a full set of chromosomes, scientists are usually working from scraps, which have usually been contaminated by bacteria and other environmental DNA. Poinar's team uses the recently finished elephant genome as a guide in separating out the mammoth DNA, and figuring out how it fits together. Poinar claims the genome is almost at full completion, although it may be less of a mammoth than a transgenic mix of mammoth and elephant DNA. As he puts it, "it would be something that looks and feels very much like a mammoth."

"The stuff you do in the lab is easy. It's everything else that's hard."

Even if the team gets that far, the hardest part may be still to come. Geneticist Mark Westhusin, who worked on the team that cloned the first cat, said creating an embryo was cake compared to successfully implanting it. "The stuff you do in the lab is easy. It's everything else that's hard," said Westhusin. When there are multiple species involved, that process gets even harder.

The first great victory for de-extinction came to a horrifying end

Those difficulties were described at the conference by Alberto Fernández Arias, who brought about the first de-extinction in 2009 when he led a project to clone the bucardo, a Spanish ibex which went extinct in 2000. Like Dr. Archer, he was working from a live tissue sample, taken from the last living bucardo before she died. Arias was able to create an embryo through nuclear transfer, but after numerous failed attempts, it became clear that no purebred goat could carry the embryo to term. He found more success after switching to a goat-ibex hybrid, but the process still required 154 embryos implanted in 47 different hybrid goats before a single one was carried to term. When the resulting clone was born, it died within ten minutes of emerging from the womb. It had been born with an extra lung blocking its airway. With that, the first great victory for de-extinction came to a horrifying end.

A poster signed by the conference speakers.

In the time since, another creature has been successfully cloned using the same process — a banteng currently living in the San Diego Zoo — but the jump from a single creature to a robust, self-sustaining population may be even larger. Carrie Friese, a bioethicist at the London School of Economics, put it this way: "The species is not the genome." Passenger pigeons also rely on a whole web of intricate behavior patterns, usually passed on mother to child — none of which will be replicable a hundred years after the fact. "It leaves the question," Friese says, "how are you going to rear this newborn?" Scientists would have to start from scratch, teaching the newly made creatures all the necessary survival skills. It's a problem zoos face all the time when reintroducing animals to the wild, but it's new to the cloning world.

"After 35 years of crisis, people have stopped listening to us."

For the passenger pigeon, at least, there's a plan. In his fifteen minutes on stage, Novak spent as much time on reintroduction as he did on building the genome. There are state forests on the land where passenger pigeons once thrived, Novak pointed out it will be easy to set up sanctuaries there. Once there's a flock to train, Novak plans to dye homing pigeons to look like passenger pigeons, and train them to lead migrating flocks from forest to forest, where they'll live in pre-built aviaries. Novak says he'll feel comfortable stepping away from the project once there are several million pigeons in the wild. It will take a hundred years, and the work of multiple generations, if it happens at all.

It’s an outlandish project, but an inspiring one. Amid a never-ending crush of bad news for conservationists, that can be a powerful thing. Some groups estimate the earth will lose up to 20 percent of its species in the next 30 years. It's depressing news, and the sheer bleakness of their message may be pushing conservationists to extremes. "After 35 years of crisis, people have stopped listening to us. And the answer has to be hope," said presenter Kent Redford, an instrumental figure in preserving the American Bison. "So I'm less concerned about the details of de-extinction than the message of it." The science may not be there yet, but after Friday, the idea has arrived.

Meet the new mammoth, same as the old? Resurrecting the Mammuthus primigenius

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Bringing back the woolly mammoth

A team of scientists working on &ldquode-extinction&rdquo says that they hope to engineer a woolly mammoth embryo within two years. Actually, it will be a mammoth/elephant hybrid. The plan is to insert the genes for mammoth characteristics into an elephant&rsquos DNA. It will be several years after the embryos are generated before giving birth to a live animal.

The article linked after the jump cites some problems that have to be overcome, as well as some ethical issues that have been raised.

Do you see a moral problem with such &ldquode-extinction&rdquo genetic engineering? Might at least some &ldquolife issue&rdquo concerns apply not just to humans but also to animals?

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 &ldquode-extinction&rdquo 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.

&ldquoOur aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,&rdquo said Prof George Church. &ldquoActually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We&rsquore not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.&rdquo

The creature, sometimes referred to as a &ldquomammophant&rdquo, 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 &ndash although, they said that it would be many years before any serious attempt at producing a living creature.

Woolly Mammoths Could Return in Two Years, Scientist Says

Creatures similar to woolly mammoths could roam the tundra again in just two years, a scientist recently announced.

Harvard University geneticist George Church says advancements in cloning and work with DNA could allow scientists to develop a mammoth-elephant hybrid embryo, according to Quartz. Victims of climate change and hunting, the woolly mammoth could actually help curb climate change, Church said. If we can use the mammoths to help dead grass grow, it could reduce the amount of carbon released from the soil into the atmosphere, he told NBC News.

"By allowing cold-resistant elephants or mammoths to repopulate the tundra, they will punch down the snow in wintertime allowing cold air to come in, and in the summertime, they'll knock down trees, which are very absorbent," Church told NBC News. "When you simulate this with a real ecosystem in Siberia, the temperature drop is 20 degrees, which is really big deal in terms of delaying the release of carbon by melting."

Despite the positives this project could yield, not everyone is on board with the idea. Aside from the questions raised about abruptly reintroducing the beasts into the animal kingdom, some believe the resources that will be used to revive this species would be better used protecting other species on the verge of extinction. After all, there are more than 24,000 threatened species on the planet, and each of them has an important role in the ecosystem, Quartz noted.

Church argues that this process isn't a zero-sum game.

"Just as a new vaccine can free up medical resources that would otherwise be spent on sick patients, reanimation may be able to help conservationists by giving them powerful new tools," Church said in an article published by Scientific American. "That this is even a possibility is reason enough to explore it seriously."

Another hurdle that exists is with the Asian elephant, which is a key component of the process. These creatures are endangered, so they cannot be used as a living surrogate for mammoth embryos, according to New Scientist. Therefore, Church hopes to develop fetuses in a lab instead of using a living surrogate, the report added.

But despite those grand plans, the technology doesn't exist yet to pull this off, so that will be a big hurdle to clear if Church's plan to resurrect the woolly mammoth by 2019 is going to become a reality.

Where Did The Week Go… The Return of the Woolly Mammoth

Scientists believe they may be on the verge of resurrecting one of history’s most mythical creatures.

The woolly mammoth, which thrived during the Ice Age 4,000 years ago, became extinct long ago. But according to Harvard scientists, the animal might be making a comeback.

“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” said Professor 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.”

Church and his team will be presenting their research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston.

This never ends well for the humans. | (Yahoo!)

My question regarding this news is, have these Harvard scientists seen Jurassic Park? Or how about Deep Blue Sea to a lesser extent? Spoiler alert, it doesn’t end well for the humans in those movies. Creating an elephant-mammoth hybrid using embryos sounds cool, but playing god in regards to animals just sounds like a bad idea.

To quote the great Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, “This isn’t some species that was obliterated by deforestation, or the building of a dam. Dinosaurs had their shot, and nature selected them for extinction.”

Church’s reasoning behind bringing the creature back to life is related to global warming. In an article published in the Scientific American in 2013, Church wrote:

“Mammoths could keep the region colder by: (a) eating dead grass, thus enabling the sun to reach spring grass, whose deep roots prevent erosion (b) increasing reflected light by felling trees, which absorb sunlight and © punching through insulating snow so that freezing air penetrates the soil. Poachers seem far less likely to target Arctic mammoths than African elephants.”

Don’t get me wrong, it would be cool to see a woolly mammoth, but that might be an animal best left alone. How about we resurrect something smaller first and see how that goes?

Seth Rogen Trying Really Hard to Get Trump Out of Office

Seth Rogen really doesn’t like President Trump (Get in line) and he’s found a creative and direct way of attempting to remove him from office.

The comedian and actor discovered that Donald Trump Jr. is following him on Twitter. So he decided to send junior a series of direct messages.

“Hey man! It’s Seth. Your father is trying to discredit our media, collude with Russia, and destroy the environment. It would be super cool of you to be like, ‘yo, dad, why don’t you stop all this and go back to being just a guy on TV.’ The majority of the world would be pretty psyched. Thanks. ”

By any means necessary to get Trump out of office, right! | (NBC/Getty)

Attached to the message was a screenshot of the president’s joke of a press conference on Thursday. But Rogen wasn’t done there. Several hours later he sent another message:

“Hey man. I don’t mean to come across as a weirdo or anything,” Rogen wrote. “I just realized I could message you so I thought I would. So, maybe, ask your dad to investigate if his campaign was in talks with Russia leading up to the election? Or maybe just have someone investigate Flynn’s ties to Russia? Or maybe just ask your dad to go back to hosting game shows? I bet he would prefer that. He doesn’t seem to like this. Thanks dude! Peace!!”

I love how passive aggressive Rogen is. He’s really politely telling junior that his dad is not good at his job, the most important job in the country, and he just thinks Trump would be happier not doing it. I think most would agree with that.

Rogen’s movie, The Interview, was supposedly the major factor behind North Korea hacking Sony Pictures. That was incredible and unbelievable. Rogen being involved in the downfall of Trump’s presidency would be something else entirely. But if it takes a comedian whose humor usually involves weed and dick jokes to bring down this administration, sign me up.

Border Patrol Discovers Drug-Slinging Catapult

Drug smugglers seem to be coming up with more and more creative ways to get drugs into the U.S. But this latest story feels like the smugglers have literally thought of everything and are now resorting to Medieval tactics.

Border Patrol agents in Arizona discovered a catapult attached to the top of a border fence near the Douglas Port of Entry in Arizona. The catapult was used to launch marijuana into America from Mexico.

The device appeared to be constructed of square tubing and a heavy spring welded together with rope tied around it. The device was powerful enough to sling two bundles of weed — weighing more than 40 pounds — into the U.S.

Agents discovered the catapult last week after they approached several people near the fence. The CBP alerted Mexican authorities, who seized the catapult, and CBP agents later dismantled it.

This really does feel like a last-resort kind of idea. Drugs in food, drugs inside the paneling of cars or drugs literally in a person have all been done. So let’s just fling it in the air over a fence and hope no one notices.

Bringing extinct species back from the dead could hurt—not help—conservation efforts

Ten days ago, science news media outlets around the world reported that a Harvard University–led team was on the verge of resurrecting the wooly mammoth. Although many articles oversold the findings, the concept of de-extinction—bringing extinct animals back to life through genetic engineering—is beginning to move from the realm of science fiction to reality. Now, a new analysis of the economics suggests that our limited conservation funding would be better spent elsewhere.

“The conversation thus far has been focused on whether or not we can do this. Now, we are progressing toward the: ‘Holy crap, we can—so should we?’ phase,” says Douglas McCauley, an ecologist at University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the study. “It is like we’ve just about put the last stiches in [Frankenstein's monster], and there is this moment of pause as we consider whether it is actually a good idea to flip the switch and electrify the thing to life.”

To estimate how much it would cost to sustain a population of de-extincted animals, researchers used databases from New South Wales, Australia, and New Zealand that methodically track the cost of conserving endangered, but still living, species. This allowed the scientists to extrapolate the cost of preserving resurrected animals that are similar to living analogs. The cost of caring for a population of resurrected mammoths, for instance, should be similar to the cost of caring for the endangered Asian elephant. The approach completely ignores the large up-front cost of developing and using the genetic and biological technologies to actually resurrect the species. So it underestimates the actual cost of de-extinction programs, the authors say. Even so, the results look grim.

The team considered two different scenarios: one in which the government assumes responsibility for the conservation of resurrected species, and another where private companies sponsor the project. In the first scenario, the money needed to maintain the population of resurrected animals comes directly out of the government’s conservation budget, meaning all existing conservation efforts lose some funding. The result, the team calculates, would be an overall loss of biodiversity—roughly two species would go extinct for every one that could be revived.

In the second scenario, where the costs are absorbed by private interests and don’t detract from the already limited conservation budget, the researchers calculate that we could see a small uptick in biodiversity, especially for animals for which the necessary conservation tools and techniques are already being used to conserve existing endangered species. Reviving the Forbes’ snipe (Coenocorypha chathamica), a long-billed bird native to New Zealand that went extinct sometime around the 19th century, for example, would create a net biodiversity gain in New Zealand because many of the conservation practices needed by the snipe are already being carried out for other species living on its former habitat of Chatham Island.

However, the results also show that if instead of focusing the money on de-extinction, one allocated it into existing conservation programs for living species, we would see a much bigger increase in biodiversity—roughly two to eight times more species saved. In other words, the money would be better spent elsewhere to prevent existing species from going extinct in the first place, the team reports today in Nature Ecology and Evolution .

There’s always the chance that a wealthy individual or company will get excited by the charisma of de-extinction and choose to fund such a project. If this money would otherwise not have gone to conservation programs of any type, then it would represent a small win for the planet’s biodiversity, the authors say.

“If that billionaire is only interested in bringing back a species from the dead, power to him or her,” says first author Joseph Bennett, a biologist at Carleton University in Ottawa. “However, if that billionaire is couching it in terms of it being a biodiversity conservation, then that’s disingenuous. There are plenty of species out there on the verge of extinction now that could be saved with the same resources.”

For McCauley, who recently published a set of guidelines for selecting de-extinction species that would do the most good for the ecosystem, the new research is sobering. “The dominant message in this analysis appears to be that doing de-extinction en masse would be counterproductive,” he says. “If this is ethically messy, ecologically awkward, and now also really expensive—I’m out.”

Conceptually, de-extinction is certainly still cool. But as a conservation tool in a world of shoestring budgets, Bennett sums up the paper’s findings succinctly: “It’s better to spend the money on the living than the dead.”

Is a scientist’s attempt to resurrect the woolly mammoth ethical?

A few years ago, bringing back an extinct species was considered science fiction. That’s no longer the case. Developments in cloning and our ability to work with ancient DNA have made some scientists so confident that they claim to be on the brink of achieving the feat.

George Church, a geneticist at Harvard University, recently announced that scientists are leading a “de-extinction” effort that will result in a hybrid mammoth-elephant embryo. This could, in a sense, bring back the ancient beast.

The new woolly mammoth, may not, however, be woolly. In fact, we can’t quite predict exactly what it will be. Church’s project to resurrect the woolly mammoth won’t create an exact replica of the extinct animal. “It would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits,” he told the Guardian.

The genetic hybrid will contain some traits that will be edited into an Asian elephant, which is the closest cousin of the woolly mammoth. Church claims that he has a found a way to include traits for mammoth hair in the hybrid, but there’s no guarantee it’ll work as expected. Would years of effort and tens of millions of dollars be worth the price for a not-so-woolly elephant-mammoth hybrid?

Just because scientists can pull off this feat of genetic engineering, does not necessarily mean that they should. The fear is not that we may be heading towards creating the chaos of Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs lived more than 60 million years ago, whereas the oldest species to yield usable DNA is a 43,000-year-old woolly mammoth.

Instead, spending resources on iconic extinct species, editors at Scientific American have argued, could lead to draining resources that would be better spent on saving species on the verge of extinction:

Already conservationists face difficult choices about which species and ecosystems to try to save, since they cannot hope to rescue them all. Against that backdrop, a costly and flamboyant project to resuscitate extinct flora and fauna in the name of conservation looks irresponsible: Should we resurrect the mammoth only to let elephants go under? Of course not.

There are more than 24,000 threatened species as of 2016, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature database. Not all of them are as cute as pandas or as majestic as the Bengal tiger, but their existence today contributes to keeping the ecosystem in balance.

Church argues that restoring “keystone” species should not be overlooked. He is, after all, working towards resurrecting woolly mammoths and makes a strong case for why the giants should still be around:

Mammoths could keep the region colder by: (a) eating dead grass, thus enabling the sun to reach spring grass, whose deep roots prevent erosion (b) increasing reflected light by felling trees, which absorb sunlight and (c) punching through insulating snow so that freezing air penetrates the soil. Poachers seem far less likely to target Arctic mammoths than African elephants.

Church also argues that work on “reanimation” is not a zero-sum game. Thus, he doesn’t expect resources would be drained from the important work of supporting conservation of threatened species.

Reanimation could help living [animals] by restoring lost genetic diversity. Ancient genes could make [threatened species] more tolerant of chemicals, heat, infection and drought. Just as a new vaccine can free up medical resources that would otherwise be spent on sick patients, reanimation may be able to help conservationists by giving them powerful new tools.

What’s more is that, Adam Welz argues in the Guardian, de-extinction could raise new money to support itself:

Resurrection biology efforts could quite realistically attract donors and investors who have never thought of being involved in wildlife conservation before, but are interested in the awesome novelty of bringing things back to life and the impressive (and perhaps impressively profitable) technology involved. They might even become interested in saving species the old-fashioned way, too.

Enthusiasts argue that, if we have the power, it is a moral imperative that we do what we can to restore the nature that we destroyed. Writer Stewart Brand said at a TED event:

Because the fact is, humans have made a huge hole in nature in the last 10,000 years. We have the ability now, and maybe the moral obligation, to repair some of the damage… some species that we killed off totally we could consider bringing back to a world that misses them.

The case resurrectionists make is tempting. Who wouldn’t want to walk among a parade of woolly mammoths? Journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot wouldn’t. He worries that the exercise would create spectacles and not deliver on any of the environmental promises being doled out.

For any species to be viable, it needs a healthy diversity in its genetic pool. That means, if we want to bring back the passenger pigeon, we’ll need to reanimate hundreds of genetically distinct specimens. We have no idea yet of how to do that, especially when we only have a handful of samples of ancient DNA. Monobiot writes:

The one or two specimens which even the most ambitious de-extinction programs will struggle to produce will live and die in zoos. Or, perhaps, in the private collections of the exceedingly rich people who could fund their revival. The bragging rights, admittedly, would be incomparable. “Come and see my woolly mammoth” must be the world’s greatest lost chat-up line (though it could be horribly misinterpreted).

Businessman Pierre-Etienne Binschedler won the bidding war for the prehistoric creature. Binschedler, CEO of a French waterproofing company whose mascot is also a mammoth, said the skeleton will feel right at home in his company's lobby in Strasbourg.

Author: Rebecca Staudenmaier (with AFP, dpa)

Questions to be answered

Miyamoto says he believes there are a number of questions that need to be addressed before the technology reaches the point that a resurrected mammoth is a reality.

"I cannot say that we should go ahead and bring these creatures back to life as there are many issues that must be considered," he said. "There are ethical issues, these animals may not be comfortable in the environment that we have today, there are countless things that have to be discussed."

"Right now, I am more interested in studying the factors that influence how animals become extinct and helping to prevent those that are in danger of dying out from disappearing," he added.

Clive Nicol, a British-born environmentalist who now lives in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture, agrees that caution needs to be exercised, but said that there are many potential benefits.

'Yuka' was transported from Siberia

"I believe that non-destructive science can be beneficial in some way or another, and it is clear that regenerating life can be positive, but I would personally prefer that we turn our attention and this sort of knowledge to endangered species that are on the Earth right now," he said.

Biodiversity fading

"Up here in the mountains, there are fewer and fewer moths, bees, insects and small birds every year, or so it seems," he said, adding they are "disappearing at an increasing rate" due to the loss of their traditional habitats, interruptions in their food chains, the use of pesticides and chemicals, and more land being given over to farming.

"And then there are problems with issues such as poaching of elephant and rhinoceros in Africa," said Nicol, who in 1969 became the first game warden of the Semien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia – the first site anywhere in the world to be registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

"The work that these scientists are doing is fascinating, but I believe it is fantasy," he said. "Indeed, I hope it is fantasy when some people start talking about bringing these creatures back to go into theme parks or zoos," he said.

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