A woolly mammoth cloning project will begin in earnest this year with the signing of a deal between Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, and the North-Eastern Federal University in Russia’s Sakha Republic. Although similar, this project is not the same mammoth cloning project announced last year by Dr. Akira Iritani, a Professor at Kyoto University. Furthermore, this project is a more public face of widespread genetic research of mammoths, another example being the Mammoth Genome Project through the Center of Comparative Genomics and Bioinformatics at the University of Pennsylvania.
In order to successfully carry out the mammoth cloning, a transfer of mammoth flesh containing genetic information, and technical know how between the two organizations will take place i.e. the Russian University will supply the mammoth parts and the South Korean cloning team will provide the methodology. A lead scientist in the project is a controversial cloning expert named Woo-Suk Hwang. Furthermore, although this scientist has been previously accused of faking evidence, he has been proven to be instrumental in the cloning of several coyotes according to AFP News.
The genetic material to be used in the cloning experiment will be extracted from the remains of a woolly mammoth that had previously been buried in Russian permafrost. The reason scientists believe the DNA of this mammoth is still viable is precisely because it has been frozen for the duration of time since its death. Moreover, the effect of the freezing has enabled the mammoth to be preserved in much the same way a 5,300 year old man named Otzi was in the Austrian Tyrolean Alps. According to Science News, this frozen mummy was so well preserved that geneticists were able to perform medical tests on his DNA to discover he was lactose intolerant and at risk of heart disease.
The procedure for cloning a mammoth is a sensitive one per science magazine io9. More specifically, it requires the nuclei of the extinct mammoth’s genetic material to replace the nuclei of an Indian elephant’s egg using a method called somatic cell nucleus transfer. In other words, DNA will be extracted from the tissue of the preserved mammoth and introduced to the egg of a living elephant. It is hoped the close genetic relationship between mammoths and elephants will enable a baby mammoth to be gestated as though it is a baby elephant within its mother.
Although the outcome of this woolly mammoth cloning project is possible, the fact the genetic material is coming from flesh that has been frozen for thousands of years makes it complicated. According to Dr. Barry Starr of Stanford University, the problem of cells destroyed by ice has been averted by extracting just the nucleus of the dead cell rather than attempting to fuse the whole cell with another. The DNA must also be functional however, and after successful transfer into a host egg cell, the newly introduced genetic material must also be reprogrammed by the host cell per Bootstrike Genetic Engineering.