Science

Can Woolly Mammoths be Brought Back to Life?


TL;DR (2-minute read)

  • The woolly mammoths lived 4,000 years ago, but sadly went extinct due to climate change and overhunting. 
  • Now a company called Colossal is trying to resurrect the woolly mammoths. To resurrect them, they’ve been using woolly mammoth fossils to encode more of their DNA. After encoding it, they compare the mammoth DNA to (their relative) elephant DNA. Then they find the genetic differences between their DNA and make the changes needed and implanting that into an embryo. That embryo is given birth to by an elephant and should be similar and looks wise to that of a woolly mammoth. 
  • One of the arguments in favor of the resurrection is to battle climate change. It’s thought that the mammoths were grazers and helped maintain the grasslands in the tundras. Scientists hope that by bringing back the mammoths, they would do certain tasks and fix the tundras.

4,000 years ago, from the Pliocene to Holocene epoch, lived a massive, majestic, furry creature called the woolly mammoth. The mammoths lived in tundras located in Eurasia and North America. They resemble a modern day elephant with tusks and a trunk; however, they also had fur. The fur was adapted to keep them warm from the frozen arctic tundra, which had temperatures ranging from -34℃ to -6℃. The mammoths were 10-foot-tall herbivores with diet consisting mainly of grass. Females had smaller tusks than the males. Mammoths also have a fairly small population to begin with ranging from 500-1000. As adult mammoths, they only had two predators humans and sabre-tooth tigers. When at a juvenile stage, they were also preyed on by wolves, hyenas, and large felines preyed on them.

A mammoth replica on display in Victoria, Canada. Wikicommons

Unfortunately, the entire woolly mammoth population went extinct. There are two main causes of the extinction:  humans over hunting them (some of the same problems we face with animals and fish today) and climate change over a short period of time. It’s also said the woolly mammoths inbred, leading to a smaller genetic pool and lower biodiversity. The last ones died out due to a genetic meltdown where they had genetic mutations that were-to put it simply-bad. 

Today, scientists have found ways to make it possible to bring them back. First a new company called Colossal was created with the focus of reviving woolly mammoths. Since there are no woolly mammoths left it’s a bit tricky on how to resurrect them, however, they share ancestors with the elephants. And that has opened new doors in the resurrection of the woolly mammoth. The company pulls out DNA from the woolly mammoth fossils. Then they compare their DNA to the DNA of elephants. Afterwards, they find the genetic differences between the two, make the fixes and implant that genome to the embryo. When the elephant gives birth to its calf it should come out looking similar to a woolly mammoth.  Scientists believe that reviving the woolly mammoths would have a positive impact on the environment and think they could be a solution to problems in global warming. It’s said in the arctic tundras that the mammoths maintained a grassland by eating all the moss and knocking down trees. In doing so they are knocking down components that release carbon dioxide into the air. Colossal plans to have an elephant carry an embryo with the genes edited so that the offspring is a woolly mammoth look alike

Science Photo Libary/L. Calvetti

Sources

https://www.jacksonvillezoo.org/woolly-mammoth

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39142941

https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2021/09/16/woolly-mammoth-extinct-science-dna/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1XkbKQwt49MpxWpsJ2zpfQk/13-mammoth-facts-about-mammoths

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