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  • What if I told you that there's a plan to bring back wooly mammoths back to Siberia?

  • Wild right?!? And if resurrecting a 6-ton creature that's been extinct for about 4,000 years isn't crazy enough, wait till you hear this:

  • They're hoping to enlist these shaggy creatures to help us solve a mammoth-sized problem.

  • But before we get to that particular issue, we've got to rewind, about 20,000 years ago.

  • Let's hit the scene!

  • It was a time when giant woolly mammoths roamed the grasslands of Northern Siberia.

  • During this time, much of the water on the planet was busy being ice,

  • which made the rest of the northern hemisphere a dry grassland ecosystem that was sorta like a cold-weather version of the African Savanna.

  • It's known as the Mammoth Steppe, and the abundant grassland was perfect for large grazing herbivores like bison, oxen, reindeer, and of course, the wooly mammoth.

  • Mammoths were great ecosystem engineers.

  • They knocked down trees and shrubs, making room for light colored grasses that reflected more sunlight than the darker trees, keeping ground temperatures cooler.

  • In the winter, they trampled through the snow, exposing the ground to the arctic chill.

  • By maintaining their grassland home, they also protected a perpetually-frozen layer of carbon-rich soil underneath, called permafrost.

  • By the end of the last Ice Age though, most of the mammoths vanished, and the grasses of the steppe did too.

  • We don't know whether to point the finger at humans, climate, or some other cause, but what we do know is that the ecosystem changed significantly.

  • Fast forward to today, and the arctic is warmer and wetter. That poses a serious problem for our climate.

  • The human-induced rise in global temperatures is causing the permafrost to melt.

  • During an almost twenty year period, scientists saw the arctic permafrost lose approximately 1.7 billion metric tons of carbon each winter.

  • And if it continues to thaw, that carbon-rich soil will decompose, emitting enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, equivalent to burning all the forests on the planet three times.

  • By reintroducing thousands of woolly mammoths back to Siberia, scientists hope to restore the grasslands that once protected the permafrost.

  • But to do that, they need to start with one woolly mammoth, and we're all out at the moment, so I guess someone's got to make one!

  • A new company called Colossal is up to the challenge.

  • Leading the team is George Church, a key member of the Human Genome Project, who pioneered the genomic sequencing techniques that we use today.

  • The team hopes to use ancient DNA recovered from unearthed mammoths to fight the climate crisis.

  • Only problem is? DNA degrades over time, getting damaged by water, radiation, and exposure to air.

  • Even the very best samples are missing data, so the DNA can't be used to make an exact clone.

  • So, the team turned to the Asian elephant, the mammoth's closest living relative.

  • Even though there's a difference of 1.4 million DNA letters between the two species, they still share 99.6% of their genetic makeup.

  • The group selected more than 50 traits that helped mammoths tolerate the cold,

  • like smaller ears and shorter tails to reduce heat loss and frostbite, a thick layer of fat to stay warm, and their signature fur coat.

  • Using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology, they're cutting the specific sections of the Asian elephant DNA, and copying and pasting the mammoth traits in their place.

  • Next, they'll need to transfer an elephant nucleus with the hybrid DNA into an elephant egg cell, which has never been done before.

  • Electrical pulses simulate fertilization, causing the egg to divide and create an embryo. And here's where things get even more interesting.

  • The plan is for the embryo to develop in an artificial womb.

  • This technique was already tested back in 2017 on premature lambs,

  • but building an artificial uterus big enough to house a 2000-pound-mega-fetus for its entire 22-month development has yet to be attempted.

  • If they're successful, the result will be a mammoth-elephant hybrid that some are calling a "mammophant", orelemoth”.

  • If Colossal's hybrids are going to protect the permafrost, they'll need to get started quickly.

  • But with a timeline of 5 years for the birth of the first calf, and at least 14 until the animal is old enough to reproduce,

  • these hybrid elephants might not be helping us solve our climate crisis anytime soon.

  • In the meantime, the tech can still be used for a bunch of really game-changing research.

  • Like improving artificial wombs to help premature infants, helping the endangered Asian elephant become more resilient to disease,

  • and making genetic tweaks to animal organs so they're more suitable for transplant into humans.

  • While this all sounds really cool, there are a lot of technical hurdles and ethical questions that remain unanswered, like should we even bring back an extinct species?

  • So while we wrestle with these questions, this visionary program could inspire equally ambitious projects that we'll need to tackle the climate crisis in the years to come.

  • And who knows, one day we may see our woolly friends walk the earth again.

  • If my mention of artificial wombs piqued your curiosity, check out this video on why scientists grew a lamb in a bag!

  • So can we just hitundoon the extinction of animals like the woolly mammoth? Should we even be doing that?

  • Let us know in the comments below. Make sure to subscribe and thanks for watching Seeker.

What if I told you that there's a plan to bring back wooly mammoths back to Siberia?

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The Wild Plan To Bring Back Woolly Mammoths

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    Summer posted on 2021/10/20
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