Harvard is getting ready to resurrect the woolly mammoth

Harvard University’s ambitions to bring back the woolly mammoth appear to be gaining some momentum — and the researchers on the project are gearing up to publicly share some of the details of this real-life Jurassic Park-style dream.

Speaking recently at the Fourth International Vatican Conference in Vatican City, Harvard geneticist Professor George Church described plans to resurrect the woolly mammoth by using gene editing to create hybrid mammoth-elephants, which can then be born using an artificial womb. This would be achieved by creating a “vascularised decidua” using stem cells, resulting in a uterine lining with the necessary blood vessels and vasculature needed to support life.

“We have one paper coming out which is a general method where we can turn stem cells into any tissue you want and in this case, we want decidua, which is the tissue into which the embryos implant, and we’re trying to make a vascularized version of that,” Church told the audience.

As we noted before when describing this project, it started out in 2015, roughly 4,000 years after the woolly mammoth went extinct. The goal is to create a cold-resistant “mammophant” that sports the same shaggy hair, smaller ears and other characteristics as the elephant’s extinct ancestor. To reach this point, researchers in Church’s lab at Harvard have been steadily increasing the quantity of mammoth DNA “edits” it is possible to make into the elephant genome. At present count, the researchers have reportedly isolated and “resurrected” 44 genes from the woolly mammoth.

While the researchers are getting ready to publish some of their findings, however, it is still likely to be around a decade before we reach the point at which a new woolly mammoth can be born. But we’re sure it will absolutely be worth the wait. After all, it’s been four millennia; what difference is eight or nine more years going to make?

The Church lab project isn’t the only woolly mammoth-related project we have covered as of late. Earlier in 2018, we wrote about a massive cross-university research initiative (including Harvard) which successfully sequenced the genome of 14 different species of elephant — ranging from present-day African and Asian elephants to the woolly mammoth and American mastodon.

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