‘Woolly mammoths could walk the Earth again’

Once upon a time: Early humans ate mammoths and used their tusks to make tools.

Scientists in Japan have made a “significant step” towards bringing the ancient species back from the dead using the DNA of a frozen mammoth. But is it the right thing to do?

Over 12,000 years ago, woolly mammoths roamed across a vast arctic landscape. Their tusks alone could stretch to four metres long.

Soon they could be walking the Earth once more.

Scientists from Kindai University in Osaka say they have made a “significant step towards bringing mammoths back from the dead”.

The team took cells from the muscles of a mammoth named Yuka, who was discovered frozen in Siberian permafrost after more than 28,000 years.

When the DNA was injected into a mouse egg cell, the scientists were amazed to see “signs of biological activity”.

But the scientists are cautious. The next step, they say, is to move “forward to the stage of cell division.”

Woolly mammoths lived during the last ice age before they were wiped out by rising temperatures, changing food supplies and human hunting 10,000 years ago.

In order to bring a woolly mammoth back to life, scientists would need to combine its DNA with a “host” species. A good candidate would be the Asian elephant, its closest surviving relative. This could pose a challenge in itself: Asian elephants are an endangered species.

Nevertheless, the possibilities are both “exhilarating and terrifying,” says Beth Shapiro from the University of California.

Lazar-rhinoceros

Should we bring back extinct species? Is it wrong for humans to control nature in this way? And when more than 20,000 living species are in danger of extinction, shouldn’t we focus our efforts on them? Would it be a huge waste of money?

Not necessarily. Some scientists think that mammoths could help stop climate change. Besides, the science could benefit endangered animals as well, like the white rhino. As the natural world dies around us, could this be just what we need to bring it back to life?

You Decide

  1. Should we bring back woolly mammoths?

Activities

  1. Find an example of an animal that humans drove to extinction. Find out as much as you can about the animal, its habitat, when it lived and how it died out.

Some People Say...

“Extinction is the rule, survival is the exception.”

Carl Sagan

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
One thing is certain: we won’t have a real-life Jurassic Park any time soon. DNA goes extinct after one million years, at which time the dinosaurs were long dead.
What do we not know?
Whether we will ever be able to bring a true woolly mammoth back to life. It is a lot more likely that we could create a hybrid species of a mammoth and a surviving species of elephant.

Word Watch

Vast
The mammoth steppe was a huge ecosystem covered in icy grass that stretched from modern-day Spain across Eurasia all the way to Canada.
Permafrost
Rock or soil that is frozen for more than two years.
Cell division
A single cell divides to form more complex organisms.
Ice age
From around 2.58 million years ago to 12,000 years ago.
10,000 years ago
One isolated colony of mammoths survived until 1650 BC.
Exhilarating
Exciting.
Climate change.
Permafrost in the Arctic contains heavy concentrations of greenhouse gases. Mammoths could help to keep these gases frozen.