Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Are they Gonna’ Clone That Mammoth or What?

Recently a 6-month-old female mammoth that died 10,000 years ago was pried from the permafrost in Siberia. We’re not talking about a fossil here, but a dead animal in “perfect condition.” All that seemed to be missing was a heart beat.

Of course, this raises the question, can we clone this thing and visit a mammoth at the zoo? The New York Times looked at this question in a recent piece, “
Nope, That’s Not a Hairy Elephant.”

According to the article, scientists need to dig down the cellular and molecular level on the carcass to figure out how “perfect” it actually is. If it is actually perfect, and there are perfectly preserved egg cells, there’s a chance that, “sperm from an elephant could possibly tickle the egg awake from its long hibernation.” However, one scientist explained the chances of this are “remote.”

So why don’t some scientists just sequence the Mammoth’s DNA, make a perfect copy and raise a clone? First of all, DNA from fossils is usually in pretty ragged shape. And even if they put it together, there are “special proteins” that are needed to make DNA “read out its genetic information.” The problem there is that, “no one knows how to add these proteins to DNA,” reports the Times.

But don’t loose hope just yet. A recent advancement and a separate discovery keep the dream of cloning a long-extinct species alive. For our first problem, fragmented DNA, “a new kind of DNA decoding machine happens to use such fragments as its starting material,” according to the Times. A team of Canadian scientists is ready to go to work on a Mammoth genome, all they need is about $1 million to get started.

Regarding the second problem, the “special proteins,” a recent experiment shows DNA without this stuff can take over a bacteria cell. Of course, bacteria cells are different than animal cells, so whether this will work for the mammoth is a mystery.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.