Woolly mammoths might be making a comeback.
Using the carcasses of the ancient mammal like the one discovered in Siberia earlier this year, scientist Ian Wilmut argues that researchers might be able to resurrect the species by converting tissue cells into stem cells, the Guardian reports.
Wilmut, an Edinburgh stem-cell scientist who helped create Dolly, the world's first cloned mammal in 1996, outlined his thoughts in an article on the academic website the Conversation on Wednesday.
"I've always been very skeptical about the whole idea, but it dawned on me that, if you could clear the first hurdle of getting viable cells from mammoths, you might be able to do something useful and interesting," Wilmut told the Guardian.
In his article, Wilmut added that, if performed, scientists must consider the “welfare of the animals” and make sure they live in appropriate environments, most likely in captivity.
Carrie Friese, a London School of Economics sociologist, agrees. "My concern is that the focus is too much on 'Can we do this?' rather than what we do with the living being that is the result," she told the Agence-France Press.
Woolly mammoths, which lived tens of thousands of years ago during the Pleistocene era most likely became extinct about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago from hunting and environmental changes.
In May, researchers discovered a well-preserved woolly mammoth on one of the Lyakhov islands of the New Siberian Archipelago. Scientists found the mammoth’s blood doesn’t freeze even at 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, which may explain why they could survive in harsh conditions, the Telegraph reports.
While the notion of raising the ancient species from the dead has piqued scientists’ curiosity in recent years, it may be a while until we see the animals in modern times.
Wilmut suggests two possible techniques to resurrect the species. One involves using mammoth cells with hundreds of elephant eggs -- a closely related species.
“It would be interesting to know if mammoth sperm could fertilize eggs of the elephant. If so, would the embryos develop to term to produce a hybrid animal?” Wilmut writes.
A major problem with this scenario is the fragility of mammoth DNA. The cells degenerate so quickly that most can’t be used once found, he added. "By the time you've got a bone sticking up in the sunshine, it's effectively too late. You need to get it straight out of the deep freeze, as it were," Wilmut said.
Another solution comes from stem cells. Wilmut suggests trying to use mammoth tissue cells to produce stem cells that can potentially create sperm and eggs. “If the cells were from a female, this might provide an alternative source of eggs for use in research and perhaps in breeding, including the cloning of mammoths,” he wrote.
This isn’t the first time scientists have tried to bring back the woolly mammoth. In 2011, Japanese geneticists planned to use DNA from the frozen carcasses of the woolly mammoth to resurrect the species within six years. Scientists have also tried to reproduce the extinct dodo, Pyrenean Ibex and Tasmanian tiger.
But conservationists argue that deextinction efforts won’t be as beneficial as previously thought. "Reconstitution of extinct species is of limited conservation value and could even be a distraction," Colman O’Criodain, of the World Wildlife Foundation, told AFP.
Friese agrees, pointing to potential complications. "An animal is more than its genome," she said. "How does a dodo learn to be a dodo?"