How many attempts are there in MMMUT

Nature & Environment - "Other animals would have to suffer to revive the mammoth"

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Researchers announced a year ago that they would clone the world's first mammoth. So far, however, the mammoth from the Siberian ice has refused to accept these plans. Fortunately - thinks the participating researcher Tori Herridge. The paleobiologist publicly criticizes the cloning plans.

SRF 4 News: Tori Herridge, bringing a mammoth to life - as a mammoth specialist, aren't you fascinated by this idea?

Tori Herridge: Yes, I am blown away when I imagine it! I would really like to see a mammoth alive in front of me. But there are serious ethical reasons that speak against it: For the dream of the revival of an extinct animal species, living animals would suffer today, namely Asian elephants: It would be an elephant cow that would have to carry the young mammoth.

How would that be a strain for Asian elephants?

Elephants are very intelligent and sociable animals. They are not at all suitable for animal testing. And this is about experiments with animals. To clone a mammoth, one has to take an egg cell from an elephant cow and then replant it - gutted, with the mammoth genome in it. I do not consider this intervention to be ethically justified just to realize a fascinating idea. In addition, we do not know how well the elephant can tolerate the foreign genome. How well she survives childbirth. Whether she accepts the alien young animal. In addition, in the end it affects not just one, but many elephant cows. Because it is unlikely that the clone attempt will work right away.

Is that still science fiction for the time being, or are the clone researchers much closer to their goal?

Not yet, but they remain confident. It has to be said: the researchers at the private South Korean Sooam Institute who want to clone the mammoth are by no means beginners. You have successfully cloned many dogs for rich customers paying $ 100,000 per pet. With their proven technology, they also want to clone the mammoth. But for this they need a cell in whose nucleus the entire genetic material, i.e. the genome of the animal, is still intact. This genetic material can be found in a living dog or a dog that has just died. With a mammoth, on the other hand, that has been under the ice for thousands of years, this is much more difficult, as we now see. So far only fragments of DNA have been found, not a whole mammoth genome. But the researchers are looking further, because the mammoth is uniquely well preserved.

What does that mean - well preserved once?

When we dissected the animal in Irkutsk, Russia, its meat was almost as fresh as if the mammoth had only died yesterday. You could smell it while you were dissecting it - it smelled like hell (laughs). No other mammoth ever found in permafrost has such a well-preserved cell structure in muscle tissue as this one. And some intact red blood cells were even found in the blood vessels.

What have the previous analyzes shown about the life of the mammoth?

It is thought to have roamed the Siberian steppe 40,000 years ago in a herd, where it mainly fed on grass and flowers, for example buttercups. It was also baptized in this name. "Buttercup" was a female and gave birth to eight cubs in her lifetime. Interestingly enough, that's what the tusks reveal. They contain annual rings inside, and they grow more slowly during pregnancy. At the age of a little over 50, the animal died - presumably cruelly. Russian colleagues conclude from back injuries, among other things, that the mammoth got into a swamp from which it could no longer escape and that it was then eaten alive by wolves or similar predators.

What do you think, will it still be possible to clone this animal after 40,000 years?

I think it is unlikely that the South Korean researchers will achieve their goal with their cloning technique. But there are other clone researchers, those from Harvard University. You don't want to clone a complete mammoth, but rather create an elephant that has certain mammoth characteristics, for example thicker fur or more fat. So the Harvard researchers don't have to find a complete mammoth genome. It is enough if they find individual mammoth genes, which they then smuggle into the elephant's genetic makeup.

Maybe someday they can do it. However, the clone researchers - whether from South Korea or the USA - are very ambitious and are pushing their work with a lot of support money. Therefore, a broad ethical discussion around the question of how to proceed with mammoth cloning is needed today.

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Tori Herridge is a paleobiologist at the Natural History Museum in London. The mammoth specialist was part of an international team involved in the autopsy of the well-preserved Siberian mammoth.

Wanted poster mammoth

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Mammuthus primigenius is an extinct genus of elephants. They lived until 10,000 years ago and were an important hunting animal for humans during the Ice Age. Probably that contributed to the extermination. The curved tusks, which are up to 5 meters long, are typical. They probably helped the herbivores to find food in the snow.

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  • Commentary by Christophe B├╝hler, Langnau am Albis
    Science per se should be neutral, it is an ethical question whether we want and need a mammoth like in "Jurasicpark". Herr Nobel's dynamite was first used for war, then for road and tunnel construction. Today there is the Nobel Prize. Progress cannot be stopped, but less is often more.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
  • Comment from Syl Jenny, Lenzburg
    I'm not that enthusiastic about it, I have to honestly say. It is not certain how the animal will develop, how it will adapt to our world today and how the world today would react to it. Sure, the mammoth would grow up in the current world and know nothing else. But I also think it's ethnically incorrect ... I mean, how would we humans react if we suddenly had Neanderthals in our midst again?
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
    1. answer from Leo Scmid, Muttenz
      Ethical or Ethnic? Probably not ethnically.
      Agree agree to the comment
    2. answer from Syl Jenny, Lenzburg
      of course, ethically I mean ... sorry.
      Agree agree to the comment
    3. Show answers
  • Commentary by Rolf Michel, 1723 Marly
    Well, if the cloning is done cleverly, the critters can then live in dry North Africa and compete with the camels - they know that snow / ice is a discontinued item.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment

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