A mammoth project to help endangered species and planet

Synopsis: A US based company has taken a project to introduce a hybrid of extinct Mammoth and Elephants.


A US bio-startup “Colossal” launched a project to regenerate the extinct woolly mammoth, or rather to create an elephant-mammoth hybrid with mammoth characteristics, through gene-sequencing and gene-splicing technology, CRISPR.

The mammoth went extinct around 1650 BCE — less than 4,000 years ago. Since mammoths lived in cold, permafrost areas, well-preserved mammoth DNA is available. Mammoths were related to Asian elephants, with 99.6 per cent of DNA in common.

Must Read: Bringing woolly mammoths back from extinction might not be such a bad idea – ethicists explain
How the experiment will be done?

If the genes unique to mammoths are inserted into Asian elephant DNA, a viable hybrid embryo may result. The gene splicing technology, CRISPR, which allows easy cut-and paste insertion (and deletion) of genes may be capable of the delicate editing necessary.

What is the expected outcome?

Experiment claims it could create “a cold-resistant elephant with all of the core biological traits of the Woolly Mammoth” — thick woolly coat, fat deposits, small ears, curling large tusks to push through frozen ground to access buried vegetation.

It may lead to insights that may help prevent modern elephant extinction, and also advances in multiplex CRISPR editing, as well as possibly establishing links between genetics and climate change.

It can help reverse climate change”, “help endangered species”, and “upset existing ecosystems”.

What are the concerns and challenges?

It is being expected that if the hybrid could be introduced in large numbers, it would disrupt the current ecological balance by uprooting trees, and thus return the Tundra to the grasslands of 4,000 years ago. This would mean better carbon absorption and limit damage from global warming, which is now leading to a massive unfreezing of the Arctic. However, this might be an exaggeration as it presupposes the hybrid could be introduced in large enough numbers to change the ecosystem and also that it wouldn’t have negative consequences on other species.

Size differences- Another challenge is the size difference. Female Asian elephants are smaller in height and weight than the mammoth. Female African elephants are larger than Asian elephants, so the hybrid em­bryo transferred to an African elephant, is more suited to carrying a larger foetus to term.

Source: This post is based on the article “A mammoth project to help endangered species and planet” published in “Business Standard” on 26th Oct 2021.

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