Fifteen million dollars (about 12.7 million euros) to revive the woolly mammoth, a species that disappeared 4,000 years ago and which the American geneticist at Harvard University, George Church, wants to recreate in the lab thanks to advances in genetics in the past years.
The investment, CNN reports, came from high-tech entrepreneur Ben Lam, who along with Church founded the biosciences and genetics company Colossal specifically to carry out this project.
The goal is not to clone a mammoth because the DNA that researchers were able to extract from the remains of a woolly mammoth frozen in permafrost is highly fragmented and decomposed: starting with the DNA of an Asian elephant, Church’s group aims to create – through genetic engineering – an elephant-mammoth hybrid identical to its extinct predecessor.
“Our goal is to have the first children within the next four to six years,” Lamm explains. The investment represents an important step forward in research in this area, comments Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. So far, this project has been “in the background, frankly…but now we can really do it”, comments Church: “That’s going to change everything.”
His team analyzed the genomes of 23 living elephants and extinct mammoths, and the scientists estimate they would have to simultaneously program “more than 50 changes” in the Asian elephant’s genetic code to give it the characteristics it needs to live in the Arctic. . Features, Church explains, such as a 10-cm layer of insulating fat and smaller ears will help the hybrid handle the cold better.
But there is no shortage of skeptics in the scientific community. According to Love Dalén, lecturer in evolutionary genetics at the Stockholm Center for Paleogenetics, the church’s work has scientific value especially when it comes to the conservation of endangered species. However, Dalin questions “what is the point” of the ongoing research: “First of all – he asserts – you don’t get a mammoth, but a hairy elephant with fatty deposits.”
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