Bringing Prehistoric Beasts Back to Life

Mammoth
Mammoth

Bringing the dinosaurs back has been a dream of many sci-fi writers and mad scientists. A few years ago this was exactly that – sci-fi. The science has moved forward and although creating a dinosaur is still as impossible as 100 years ago, there are some beasts that we can consider resurrecting.

We have to pick somebody or should I say something that hasn’t been extinct for too long. The problem with DNA is that it deteriorates with time so capturing a full set of DNA without a lot of manipulation is almost impossible. The two most likely candidates for cloning are a mammoth and… ahem… a Neanderthal They went extinct 4,000 and 30,000 years ago respectively.

With the mammoth it’s all plain and clear – there have been several teams of scientists both in USA and Japan claiming that they can resurrect the elephant’s predecessor within the next few years. Daring claims but, hey, here you go. You have to be ambitious to make it in science.

Because the extinction of mammoths happened so recently and because there have been so many well-preserved specimen recovered in Siberia, we have an almost complete set of DNA. Almost.

There are some links missing but that is solvable. What is going to be a big challenge is to get an elephant “pregnant” with the mammoth. Elephants ovulate once in 5 years, the egg is difficult to get because the elephant is big and the egg is tiny. And you need more than one egg, I tell you. You need hundreds.

Now, let’s assume you manage to retrieve the egg. The mammoth DNA should be implanted in the stem cells of the embryo (at the stage when it’s nothing more than a minuscule cluster of cells) and then the embryo should be implanted inside the mother elephant. Let’s assume you’re lucky, then you have 600 days to wait with your fingers crossed because that’s how long the elephants gestate. Sounds like too much fuss.

It would be much easier with humans, wouldn’t it? We have already mastered the IVF to the level when it seems as simple as a visit to a physio. So, shall we clone a Neanderthal instead?

Neanderthal
Neanderthal

Professor George Church from Harvard Medical School thinks it can be done. According to a largely controversial article in an Italian newspaper La Stampa, the modern science is ready to produce a Neanderthal Unlike the popular misconception, this won’t be a half-human half-Neanderthal.

Because each and every cell of the embryo will receive the Neanderthal DNA, this will be as close to the real thing as theoretically possible. La Stampa claims that there will be no problem finding a surrogate mother (there are many film and music stars that might help with referrals). What is going to be a problem is the moral aspect of the whole thing.

Cloning a mammoth is not really a big deal because the young mammoth will hardly notice that he’s different from his elephant cousins. It’s different with the Neanderthal He or she will have enough intellect to understand stuff and is almost guaranteed to have a miserable life. Really difficult this one. What do you think – would it be right to clone a Neanderthal?

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Arvid Linde is an independent SEO consultant, award-winning journalist, MSc in engineering, published author and a technology addict. More info on the about page.