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Prehistoric Woolly Mammoths About to Be Resurrected, Claim Harvard Scientists
Harvard scientists say they are two years away from creating a hybrid embryo with mammoth traits.
They are not opening “Jurassic Park” just yet, but scientists are getting closer to bringing back one of the iconic animals of Earth’s history. A team from Harvard University announced that it’s just two years away from potentially creating a mammoth-elephant hybrid embryo. This step could lead to the eventual resurrection of the woolly mammoth, an animal that’s not been around for at least 4,000 years.
The scientists are led by geneticist and professor George Church, who is speaking this week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston. He explained that the embryo they are looking to produce using the Crispr gene-editing technique would be from an Asian elephant, with mammoth traits programmed into it. The genes would be taken from frozen mammoth remains.
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” explained professor Church in an interview with “The Guardian”. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.”
What would you call the resulting creature? A mammophant. While not exactly a mammoth, it would have a lot of mammoth traits like shaggy hair, small ears and blood that allows it to withstand freezing temperatures.
It would take more years, however, to go from creating an embryo to having a full-fledged mammophant. The goal would be to nurture it within an artificial womb, as the previous idea from the team of implanting the embryo into a live elephant came under fire for being cruel since the animal would likely die as a result of the procedure.
After beginning the project in 2015, the team has been increasing the number of gene “edits” or splices into the elephant’s genome with mammoth DNA from 15 to 45.
“We’re working on ways to evaluate the impact of all these edits and basically trying to establish embryogenesis in the lab,” said Church.
There are critics of their work, who see the resurrection of extinct animals to be wrought with unpredictable consequences. How would the introduction of a mammophant or a woolly mammoth affect elephants and other animals?
Ethical considerations aside, the team’s work continues. They were able to grow a mouse embryo in an artificial womb for half of its gestation period — 10 days. The gestation period necessary for an elephant calf — 660 days, a much tougher feat.
“We’re testing the growth of mice ex-vivo. There are experiments in the literature from the 1980s but there hasn’t been much interest for a while,” elaborated Professor Church. “Today we’ve got a whole new set of technology and we’re taking a fresh look at it.”
Besides the novelty factor of seeing a prehistoric animal, there are some other benefits of “de-extincting” the wooly mammoth, according to Church. In particular, they would help preserve a form of Asian elephants, which are going extinct as well. Curiously, the mammoths would also have an impact on reducing greenhouse emissions. Woolly mammoths could prevent tundra permafrosts from melting, an event that would release a massive amount of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
“They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in,” explained Church. “In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.”
Cover photo: Woolly mammoths. Made public in 1916, according to the book Charles R. Knight: The Artist Who Saw Through Time
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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A tourist generally has an eye for the things that have become almost invisible to the resident.
A large new study puts caffeine-drinking moms on alert.
- Neuroregulating caffeine easily crosses the placental barrier.
- A study finds that the brains of children born to mothers who consumed coffee during pregnancy are different.
- The observed differences may be associated with behavioral issues.
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Credit: myboys.me/Adobe Stock<p>For the study, its authors analyzed brain scans of 9,000 nine and ten-year-olds. Based on their mothers' recollections of their coffee consumption during pregnancy, the researchers found that children of coffee drinkers had clear changes in the manner in which white brain matter tracks were organized. These are the pathways that interconnect brain regions.</p><p>According to Foxe, "These are sort of small effects, and it's not causing horrendous psychiatric conditions, but it is causing minimal but noticeable behavioral issues that should make us consider long-term effects of caffeine intake during pregnancy."</p><p>Christensen says that what makes this finding noteworthy is that "we have a biological pathway that looks different when you consume caffeine through pregnancy."</p><p>Of children with such pathway differences, Christensen says, "Previous studies have shown that children perform differently on IQ tests, or they have different psychopathology, but that could also be related to demographics, so it's hard to parse that out until you have something like a biomarker. This gives us a place to start future research to try to learn exactly when the change is occurring in the brain."</p><p>The study doesn't claim to have determined exactly <em>when</em> during development these changes occur, or if caffeine has more of an effect during one trimester or another.</p><p>Foxe cautions, "It is important to point out this is a retrospective study. We are relying on mothers to remember how much caffeine they took in while they were pregnant."</p><p>So as if being pregnant wasn't difficult enough, it sounds like the most conservative and safe course of action for expectant mothers is to forgo those revitalizing cups of Joe and switch to decaf or some other uncaffeinated form of liquid comfort. We apologize on behalf of science.</p>