Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Should Scientists Bring Back Woolly Mammoths?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Should Scientists Bring Back Woolly Mammoths?

Article excerpt

Woolly mammoths may walk the earth again soon, with the help of some newly discovered technology.

"For the past 200,000 years human beings have played an active role in causing extinction, changing the planet in an ignorant, blind way. Now we can play an active role in evolution," says Ben Novak of the Long Now Foundation in a BBC interview. The Long Now Foundation runs one of three projects aimed to "de-extinct" mammoths.

It's impossible to clone a mammoth because cloning requires a living cell, something you won't find in the body of a creature that's been dead for thousands of years. However, scientists have recently discovered the order of the mammoth's DNA. By altering the genome of the mammoth's closest living relative, the Asian elephant, a new elephant-mammoth hybrid could theoretically be created.

But why bring mammoths back to live? Scientists speculate that introducing a new breed of mammoths could help slow global warming.

According to evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro, the soil is colder where animals such as reindeer and moose have exposed it to the Arctic air while grazing. The re-introduction of woolly mammoths could slow down the release of carbon trapped in the Siberian permafrost, potentially slowing the rate of climate change. Mr. Novak says mammoths are the only creature that could knock down trees in Siberia to keep the grasslands free of forests.

However, Ms. Shapiro believes there are moral issues involved with creating an elephant-mammoth hybrid.

"Until we figure out how to meet the physical and psychological needs of elephants in captivity, they shouldn't be in captivity at all, much less being used to make mammoths," says Shapiro in an interview with NPR's All Things Considered. "But what if we could use this technology not to bring back mammoths but to save elephants?"

Shapiro proposes using the technology to make elephants "slightly better adapted to cooler climates" - the kind of climates that woolly mammoths once lived in. …

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