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Scientists plan to clone a woolly mammoth

surfer-mammoth-with-beerFinding a fully intact frozen woolly mammoth isn’t enough, it seems. Now, a professor at Kyoto University in Japan is planning to bring the species back from extinction through cloning, reports the AFP. Dr. Akira Iritani plans to insert the nuclei of mammoth cells into a modern elephant’s egg cell, creating a woolly mammoth embryo that will be brought to term by an elephant mother. The elephant was chosen because it is the nearest modern relative to the mammoth. Woolly mammoths died out during the last ice age, more than 5,000 years ago. Iritani thinks he can resurrect one in five years.

The key is soft tissue. Unlike older extinct species like the dinosaur family, scientists have been able to dig up entire frozen mammoth carcasses in Siberia, most of which still have soft tissue with cells containing DNA. The key breakthrough is a new technique that allows the scientists to extract DNA from frozen cells. Previously, frozen cells were thought to be too damaged (by the freezing process) to use for things like cloning.

“If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed (the mammoth) and whether to display it to the public,” Iritani said. “After the mammoth is born, we will examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors.”

There is debate among the science community how exactly mammoths went extinct. Some believe that humans hunted the creatures to extinction while others believe that climate change did the furry elephants in. Let’s just hope that all of these scientists give Jurassic Park a watch before they start completing the mammoth genetic codes with frog DNA.

Would you pay to see a living woolly mammoth?

UPDATE 4/15/2011: LiveScience has a video that explains Iritani’s plans.

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