South Korea Determined to Revive the Woolly Mammoth

South Korean researchers are serious (and seriously working hard) to bring the woolly mammoth back to life using cloning techniques that have already produced identical copies of dogs, cows, and, famously, Dolly the sheep.

South Korean researchers are serious (and seriously working hard) to bring the woolly mammoth back to life using cloning techniques that have already produced identical copies of dogs, cows, and, famously, Dolly the sheep. Recently, Vice News sent host Ben Makuch and producer Xavier Aaronson on a worldwide hunt for remnants of the hairy elephant.


Researchers at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation already know that the Asian elephant, the woolly mammoth's closest living relative, is the prospective surrogate mother. But cloning requires an intact cell from which to extract DNA, and that's a difficult task considering that the mammoth has been extinct for over 4,000 years.

"There are spirits all around," said a pair of Siberian shop owners. "One should not go looking for the woolly mammoth because individuals and families become cursed as a result."

The search for mammoth DNA has been expedited by climate change, which is quickly melting the Siberian permafrost that entombs ancient mammoths, and recent prohibitions against the trade of elephant ivory. Those regulations have opened the mammoth ivory market, where intact tusks are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars to wealthy buyers in China, as well as other nations that have a cultural connection to ivory.

"To become a man," said one mammoth ivory trader, "you must travel to Siberia and hunt for the woolly mammoth."

Sooam's top researcher, Hwang Woo-suk, is leading an aggressive search for woolly DNA despite a checkered past. In the 2000s, Dr. Hwang was exposed as having faked evidence of cloned human stem cells and later admitted to using private research funds to pay off the Russian mafia in exchange for mammoth meat.

Read Ben's first-person account of the adventure at Vice News.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • In some fundamental ways, humans haven't changed all that much since the days when we were sitting around communal fires, telling tales.
  • Although we don't always recognize them as such, stories, symbols, and rituals still have tremendous, primal power to move us and shape our lives.
  • This is no less true in the workplace than it is in our personal lives.

Has a black hole made of sound confirmed Hawking radiation?

One of Stephen Hawking's predictions seems to have been borne out in a man-made "black hole".

Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Surprising Science
  • Stephen Hawking predicted virtual particles splitting in two from the gravitational pull of black holes.
  • Black holes, he also said, would eventually evaporate due to the absorption of negatively charged virtual particles.
  • A scientist has built a black hole analogue based on sound instead of light.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • The word "creative" is sometimes waved around like a badge of honor. We speak of creativity in hushed tones, as the special province of the "talented". In reality, the creative process is messy, open, and vulnerable.
  • For this reason, creativity is often at its best in a group setting like brainstorming. But in order to work, the group creative process needs to be led by someone who understands it.
  • This sense of deep trust—that no idea is too silly, that every creative impulse is worth voicing and considering—is essential to producing great work.