The attempt to clone a woolly mammoth seems like something straight out of a science fiction script, but truth is often stranger than fiction.
Scientists from Russia and South Korea have signed an agreement to attempt to recreate this creature that roamed the earth some 10,000 years ago.
The project will be conducted under the auspices of North-Eastern Federal University of the Sakha Republic and Woo-Suk Hwang of South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation.
The research will begin with the remains of a woolly mammoth that were recovered after global warming thawed Siberia’s permafrost.
The plan is to implant eggs from restored mammoth cells into the womb of a live elephant.
According to the Wall Street Journal, replacing the nuclei of an elephant cell with that of a woolly mammoth cell would create a mammoth embryo.
The one flaw in this fascinating project concerns one of its leaders. Woo-suk Hwang gained notoriety back in 2004 and 2005 with his fallacious claims that his research team had made a human embryonic stem cell.
Hwang has done his best to reclaim the trust of his colleagues. In 2011, he became the first to clone a coyote, and announced his plans to do a mammoth at that time.
It has also been said that Hwang’s financial backer, Moon-soo Kim, seems more interested in headlines than scientific advances.
“Our original dream is cloning dinosaurs. It may be difficult now … but we believe we will shake the world once again by creating a live Jurassic Park that would be incomparable to Spielberg’s imaginative Jurassic Park,” Kim told the press last fall.
The scientific community is divided about the idea.
“There is no good scientific reason to bring back an extinct species,” said Hendrik Poinar, evolutionary geneticist from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. “Simply studying their evolution, which can be done from old fossil bones, seems far more satisfying.”
But who can say what this cloning project will mean to the world of tomorrow?
Maybe the shadow knows, but if he does, he isn’t telling.