Geneticists from Harvard University claim that they are on the brink of bringing the woolly mammoth back to life. The mammoth lived in Africa, North America, Asia and Europe before they vanished 4,500 years ago, towards the end of the Pleistocene period. The geneticists say that they are now just two years away from resurrecting the extinct animal.
The team of researchers led by Professor George Church plan to come up with a revolutionary research by using frozen DNA of the mammoth preserved in Arctic permafrost.
"We're working on ways to evaluate the impact of all these edits and basically trying to establish embryogenesis in the lab," Professor Church, head of the Harvard Woolly Mammoth Revival team, was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.
"Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant/mammoth embryo. Actually it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We're not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years," he added.
The researchers have been working on recreating the DNA blueprint of this extinct elephant-like species for the past two years.
The resurrected mammoth is likely to arrive in around two years and it will be a hybrid between an Asian elephant and a mammoth. The reason behind using Asian elephants is that they are the closer relatives of the mammoth compared to African elephants.
The researchers plan to recreate this shaggy animal by splicing the mammoth's genes into the genome of an Asian elephant. This would provide them with a species possessing distinct features of a mammoth.
The technology being used for resurrecting this extinct species -- CRISPR/Cas9 -- has been developed by Professor Church and has been in use since 2012, which transformed genetic engineering. Professor Church believes that the CRISPR technique is being overhyped.
"It's just another technology. To say it's changed everything is like saying the Beatles invented the '60s," he said.
Professor Church even believes that age-reversal techniques will exist within a decade's time, The Telegraph reported.
The woolly mammoths lived in Africa, North America, Asia and Europe before they went extinct 4,500 years ago, towards the end of the Pleistocene period. The main causes of their extinction were climate change and hunting by early humans for their tusks, trunks and foraging.
The experiment started in 2015 and researchers have done gene editing of the mammoth's DNA in elephant genome for up to 15 to 45 times.
"The list of edits affects things that contribute to the success of elephants in cold environments. We already know about ones to do with small ears, subcutaneous fat, hair and blood, but there are others that seem to be positively selected," Professor Church said.
The scientists have plans to develop the mammoth embryo in an artificial womb instead of a female elephant.
"What George Church is doing in trying to revive particular species I think represents a massive opportunity," said Dr Edze Westra, senior lecturer and CRISPR expert at the University of Exeter.
"One can also use this technology for engineering the DNA of rapidly declining species or those that are becoming too inbred to increase their chance of survival," Dr Westra added.