Researchers will attempt resurrecting the mammoth, a species believed extinct for over 5,000 years, after finally obtaining tissue last summer from a carcass preserved in a Russian mammoth research laboratory.
The team will be led by Professor Akira Iritani, professor emeritus at Kyoto University, notes Physorg.com.
Though the study began in 1997, the researchers were unable to determine how to safely extract DNA until a 2008 experiment by Dr. Teruhiko Wakayama, during which he cloned a mouse that had been in deep freeze for 16 years.
They plan on taking nuclei from the mammoth cells and inserting them into an elephant's egg cells from which the nuclei have been removed. This will create an embryo that contains the mammoth's genes. The embryo will then be inserted into the elephant's womb, and the animal will, hopefully, give birth to a mammoth. According to The Daily Tech, Iritani said:
"The success rate in the cloning of cattle was poor until recently, but now stands at about 30 percent. I think we have a reasonable chance of success and a healthy mammoth could be born in four or five years."
According to PCmag.com, the team will need a working sample of tissue of at least three square centimeters. The team has had trouble in the past because they had only been able to obtain tissue samples from mammoths found in Siberia, which were rendered unusable because of the frost.
The effort has now become a joint one, bringing together the United States (two African elephant researchers), Russia (the head of the Russian mammoth research lab), and Japan (Professors Minoru Miyashita and Akira Iritani).
If everything goes as planned, a mammoth will be born in 4 to 6 years. It will take so long because it will most likely be at least two years before they can impregnate an elephant, and then there will be a 600 day gestation period.
Iritani realizes the potential ramifications of this procedure. He notes, "If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed it and whether to display it to the public. After the mammoth is born, we'll examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors."
Mammoths were between 10 to 12 feet tall and weighed from 6 to 8 tons. They are estimated to have gone extinct more than 5,000 years ago, probably due to a combination of the change in climate, hunting, and disease, and remain a symbol of the last ice age.