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mammoth clone
February 8, 2003 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Cells obtained from the well-preserved legs of a mammoth found last summer in Russia's far-northern Yakutia region are "conditionally alive" and could provide the DNA needed to resurrect the long-extinct tuskers.
posted by stbalbach (36 comments total)

 
what we really need are cells from the 80's Michael Jackson, so we can resurrect the long-extinct pre-wacko-Jacko.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:45 PM on February 8, 2003


Say this succeeds, and say it succeeds in sufficient numbers to release them into the wild. And say they adapt and survive in the wild, eating the equivalent of what they once did in their natural, pre-extinction habitat, migrated according to that same pattern, mated according to the old ways...

Wouldn't it be... freakin' WEIRD if all those dynamic behaviors turned out to just be encoded information you could put on ice and store? I guess I always thought there was some process of transubstantiation whereby a bunch of proteins, coded in DNA, became a living thing with instincts and, in groups, culture.

I guess they probably wouldn't exhibit all the same behaviors. They'd have to adapt to a vastly changed biosphere. It would be interesting to see them try, given that they wouldn't have the long evolutionary preparation for this epoch that we, and all other living things, have.
posted by scarabic at 2:56 PM on February 8, 2003


Did I miss something? Last time I check you needed a mammoth womb+connected systems to create a mammoth, not just the DNA. (Well, that and a universe, but I think we've got that)
posted by fvw at 3:27 PM on February 8, 2003


Lord PLEASE don't let this be the preclude to Jurassic Park IV...
posted by tgrundke at 3:31 PM on February 8, 2003


An elephant is going to act as a stand in for the nonexistent mammoth womb. They're close cousins so it should be o.k. Or that is at least the hope.
posted by jmauro at 3:38 PM on February 8, 2003


Last time I check you needed a mammoth womb+connected systems to create a mammoth, not just the DNA

As far as I know, theoretically, all you need is a compatible egg and a compatibly-sized womb, both of which can be obtained from an elephant. Horses and cattle are fertilized in vitro and implanted in surrogates successfully all the time (with horses, it's very much a standard way to get offspring from performance mares without having the actual horse go through the risk and time off work a pregnancy entails).
posted by biscotti at 3:40 PM on February 8, 2003


I had a great discussion with the missus this morning about the same issues as raised here. A Mammoth could theoretically be cloned using the womb and eggs of its closest surviving relative, the Elephant. Would it be a Mammoth? Physically speaking, it would probably be indistinguishable. With several generations of cloning and selective breeding, we might have a viable population of Mammoth creatures that we would call Mammoths, and would share the characteristics of its 30,000 year old forebears.

But would it be a Mammoth? The world is different now, and its habitats are gone. There are no adult Mammoths currently living to teach it any socialized behaviors, and in fact, it would have no behavioral directives at all, save what is predestined by its physical makeup (profuse forager, must travel to find food after depleting its local, susseptable to certain temperature extremes and will seek comfort to avoid them, ...) and the behaviors we condition it to. I'm not certain that a living Mammoth would teach us anything about the prehistoric beast we wish to study. Call it a neo-Mammoth if you will.

I would like to clone a Mammoth if for no other reason than to see the beast; call it a sideshow exhibit if you will. But it wouldn't be the same species in behavioral terms, and releasing them into the wild would be the hight of human arrogance and stupidity.

(I think I need to re-read Chrichton's "The Lost World" again.)
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:44 PM on February 8, 2003


Sorry, its Crichton, and I do recommend The Lost World, even if it does have a cop-out ending.
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:48 PM on February 8, 2003


Now we know what kind of sweater Bill Gates is going to be wearing next winter.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:51 PM on February 8, 2003


If this fails, using DNA from the current US administration may also be invaluable in raising the dinosaurs from a previous Ice Age.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 4:26 PM on February 8, 2003


I'm all for it. Wooley mammoths should roam the frozen tundra once again!!!! Which would finally make Canada cool.

The first few generations could learn their socialized behaviors from elephants with fur coats straped to them.
posted by Spacelegoman at 4:39 PM on February 8, 2003


"I am really stunned that there are scientists still pushing this idea." To put the news in perspective, the primary objection to the possibility of mammoth cloning was the doubt of ever finding undamaged cells.

I seem to remember the Discovery channel special "Raising the Mammoth" having CG animation of how cloned mammoths (really, elephants with mammoth DNA) would progress from hybrid creatures to full sized mammoths in a few generations. I can't see to locate any online media, though.

I'm sure zoos are salivating over the prospect of being to first to exhibit a resurrected mammoth, which is kind of sad. Also sad is the prospect that the extinction of species will soon be treated as a matter of molecular biology, and not of preserving habitat.
posted by eddydamascene at 5:13 PM on February 8, 2003


Spacelegoman, letting cloned Mammoths roam with Elephants has been proposed (saw it on Discovery, but can't find a link). The problems proposed with this are:

1) Disparate environmental conditions. Elephants, regardless of fur coats, cannot survive arctic or subarctic food sources, or even the relocation.

2) The obvious appeal to poachers.

3) We have no way of knowing for certain that Elephant socialization matches up with Mammoth socialization. Its a good assumption, but if we're wrong it could be disasterous.

4) Displacement and upheaval of current modern species.

5) Human interferance could be the second extinction force in Mammoth history. We mine, we hunt, we raise stock; all of which could drive Mammoths into an untenable situation.

6) Canada is cool enough (some might call it downright cold).

I am in favor of efforts to clone the Mammoth, but if we do this, I think their lives might best be spent in zoos. There is no moral compulsion to claim that they would be happier in the wild, because the wild wrote the story of their going bye-bye.
posted by Wulfgar! at 5:25 PM on February 8, 2003


What I find astounding is that around 2000 BC -- at about the same time that Stonehenge was being built and (traditionally) Abraham was heading west out of Ur -- the last dwarf mammoths were still living on Wrangel Island.
posted by Guy Smiley at 5:26 PM on February 8, 2003


sorry, the animation was for impregnating elephants with mammoth sperm. a cloned mammoth would be a mammoth.
posted by eddydamascene at 5:29 PM on February 8, 2003


Hmmm.

In ten, fifteen years - mammoth steaks for sale at Safeway? Just think of the advertising...

"Mammoth - it's what's for dinner."

"Mammoth - the other red meat."

"Mammoth - it's good for you."

And the possible franchise opportunities...

'Mammo-fil-a' opens, cows and chickens both rejoice.

Steak'n'Shake changes their name to Mam'n'Milk.

"Beef" magazine changes it's name to "Mams" - and is immediately put on Dr. James Dobson's banned list, along with Playboy & Penthouse.

The mind boggles at the possibilities...

JB
posted by JB71 at 5:42 PM on February 8, 2003



posted by y2karl at 6:10 PM on February 8, 2003



posted by stbalbach at 6:36 PM on February 8, 2003


Wild population or trophy?
posted by eddydamascene at 6:51 PM on February 8, 2003


Since our ancestors' hunting seems to have been a major force in driving the wooly mammoth extinct (along with several other elephants), perhaps cloning new mammoths and reintroducing them into suitable habitats isn't much different than reintroducing any other species we've eradicated from the wild. Yeah, they won't be 100% genetically pure mammoth, and they may not have the best social skills, but we don't generally worry about such minutiae with other reintroduced animals, like human-raised California condors.

cloned mammoths (really, elephants with mammoth DNA) would progress from hybrid creatures to full sized mammoths in a few generations

Wouldn't they shrink over the first few generations, since elephants are a bit larger than wooly mammoths were? I guess the group was named for the largest species, not the best known one.
posted by crake at 7:05 PM on February 8, 2003


I wouldn't worry over their social skills...

We can always get Miss Manners to help out on the manners and morals of today's world, (as opposed to the last ice age) and Emily Post to help them figure out those tricky etiquette problems when it comes to social situations. (As in which fork do I use for the salad course?)

JB
posted by JB71 at 7:11 PM on February 8, 2003


I don't think this is going to happen any time soon.

First, a mammoth has to be half-elephant, and only by mating it with pure mammoths for like eight generations will there be a pureblood mammoth. Not any time soon, if at all.
posted by hama7 at 7:30 PM on February 8, 2003


I, for one, welcome our new wooly overlords.

Stop me before I do it again.
posted by davidmsc at 8:05 PM on February 8, 2003


Wouldn't they shrink over the first few generations, since elephants are a bit larger than wooly mammoths were?

early and middle Pleistocene European mammoths could reach over 15 ft tall (*). that special I was recalling was probably comparing a small elephant to the largest mammoth, for dramatic effect (I was left with the impression that a mammoth was, like, twice as big). I think you're right, though.
posted by eddydamascene at 8:26 PM on February 8, 2003


Hug A Mammoth Today
posted by kv at 8:50 PM on February 8, 2003


I say we go for full reinstatement of all extinct species that we can. Books on evolution would have to be reprinted with extra volumes just for the footnotes.
posted by will at 9:19 PM on February 8, 2003


If they pull it off, then I want one. Be a cool beast to walk on a leash, or go get the Sunday paper with. Also, if my neighbor pisses me off I can let it take a crap on his lawn, maybe step on his car too. I will name it Scruffy and scratch behinds its ears everyday. I will keep his tusks sharp and train him to kill IRS agents. He will come when I call him, and even know whistle codes. He will be the toughest pet on the block. No doubt.
posted by a3matrix at 9:47 PM on February 8, 2003


My question ...and I do no mean to be snarky here....is Why? Other than to prove that it could be done. For what purpose would reintroduction serve? I am truly curious about the reasoning behind this.
posted by SweetIceT at 11:53 PM on February 8, 2003


The world needs more trombipulators.
posted by y2karl at 12:55 AM on February 9, 2003


"I guess they probably wouldn't exhibit all the same behaviors. They'd have to adapt to a vastly changed biosphere. It would be interesting to see them try, given that they wouldn't have the long evolutionary preparation for this epoch that we, and all other living things, have."

Undoubtedly the Mammoth will end up with a dead-end service job somewhere, or perhaps in a cubicle, forever unsure where those feelings of nomadic restlessness are coming from, and feeling vaguely unfulfilled.
posted by mecran01 at 6:22 AM on February 9, 2003


I'm suing a3matrix for making me laugh so hard, I have a hernia....
posted by alumshubby at 6:25 AM on February 9, 2003


Your right mecran01 -- which is why we need to clone the Ice Man so they can battle it out at the local Megaplex to a sell out crowd. Iceman versus Mammoth.. one day only.. Sunday Sunday Sunday.. I'd pay to see that.
posted by stbalbach at 6:28 AM on February 9, 2003


Why? Other than to prove that it could be done. For what purpose would reintroduction serve? I am truly curious about the reasoning behind this.

The mammoth is an extreme example, and probably not the best one. However, the arguments I have seen go something like this: up until recently, human beings have had a fairly limited understanding of their impact on the ecosystems. The tendency is to overexploit an environment beyond its capacity, which often times leads to the extinction of species. Extinction is forever, or so the motto goes. But is it? What if modern genetics and reproductive techniques allow us to transend extinction. This has lead some restoration ecologist to speculate on the possibility of re-creating lost species, and even returning them to their niches. This could range from the organisms that disappeared long ago like mammoths and the North American cheetahs, to relatively recent exterpations. This is a rather simplistic explanation. For more detail arguments, look here. Of course, the contempation of this requires an understanding of deep time, something that, like ecological sensibilities, human beings have only recently acquired, and which we have only just begun to explore.
posted by piskycritter at 6:32 AM on February 9, 2003


Mammoths went extinct for a variety of reasons. So did all other species. By bringing them back, we are not righting a wrong of humans (You gonna hand the $20,000 and a plot of land? They're Mammoths! They won't know anything of social justice!). Aren't we taking a high risk with viral aberrations by introducing an organism which may have halted such a threat by it's own extinction?
posted by effer27 at 8:42 AM on February 9, 2003




posted by gottabefunky at 10:15 AM on February 9, 2003


Well this is just what I've been saying all along. With the possibility of cloned mammoths on the horizon, we must attack Iraq.
posted by iamck at 11:33 AM on February 9, 2003


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