Cells from a woolly mammoth that died around 28,000 years ago have begun showing “signs of life” in a shocking scientific achievement.
It seems like the story that’d serve as the prologue to a new Jurassic Park—the woolly mammoth, which features a huge fluffy elephant’s species that disappeared from the face of earth around 10,000 years ago, could be brought back to life.
According to the study, the last surviving woolly mammoth elephant died some 3,600 years ago after the species began its decline at the end of the last Ice Age, more than 11,000 years ago.
However, scientists are well in the game to restore this huge prehistoric mammal back among the living.
A team of scientists from Kindai University in Japan has managed to extract nuclei from mammoth cells and transplant them into mouse oocytes — cells found in ovaries that are capable of forming an egg cell after genetic division.
After the experiment (though their activation was limited), the cells did show signs of “life.”
The study author, Kei Miyamoto, from the Department of Genetic Engineering at Kindai University, said:
“This suggests that, despite the years that have passed, cell activity can still happen, and parts of it can be recreated. Until now, many studies have focused on analyzing fossil DNA and not whether they still function.”
The cells belonged to a 28,000-year-old mammoth carcass, which the team dubbed Yuka.
Yuka, which was retrieved from the permafrost of Siberia in 2010, is one of the most pristine mammoth specimens to have been discovered.
In the experiment, the team extracted bone marrow and muscle tissue from Yuka’s remains. They then inserted the “least-damaged nucleus-like structures” into living mouse oocytes.
The study’s abstract reveals that ‘[i]n the reconstructed oocytes, the mammoth nuclei showed the spindle assembly, histone incorporation and partial nuclear formation.’
While Miyamoto admits that they’re far from “recreating a mammoth,” the team is confident that their experiment (using the controversial CRISPR gene-editing tool) will bore fruit soon.
George Church, a Harvard and MIT geneticist and co-founder of CRISPR, is the head of the Harvard Woolly Mammoth Revival team, a project that’s in attempting to introduce mammoth genes into Asian elephants for conservation purpose.
“The elephants that lived in the past — and elephants possibly in the future — knocked down trees and allowed the cold air to hit the ground and keep the cold in the winter, and they helped the grass grow and reflect the sunlight in the summer.”
“Those two (factors) combined could result in a huge cooling of the soil and a rich ecosystem.”
The scientists are focused on reaching the cell division stage— and with the groundbreaking progress already made so far, the efforts seem promising.