Sunday, December 11, 2011

Woolly mammoths may be poised for comeback

Editor's note: This is not an anatomically correct representation.
Yabba dabba do!

Woolly mammoths could walk the earth again, although not for another 20 to 50 years, according to scientists interviewed by CBS News. Still, given the fact that the most recent descendants of the extinct species - dwarf mammoths - died about 3,700 years ago, that seems like a short wait. Overall, the species survived for more than 1 million years. CBS reported:
Scientists regularly conduct research on the DNA of these shaggy giants, extracting it from tusks, bone and teeth. With all this genetic material on hand, there lies the distinct possibility mammoths might be cloned one day. 

Researcher Hendrik Pinar, an evolutionary geneticist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, told CBS that recreating a woolly mammoth "is definitely within reason." He told the network:

"We know African and Asian elephants can interbreed, and they're separated by 5 million to 6 million years. Asian elephants are actually closer to mammoths than they are to African elephants — mammoths split from Asian elephants after Asian elephants split from African elephants — so if living elephants can interbreed, perhaps an Asian elephant can host a mammoth embryo."
Future source of slave labor?
Just like in the movies - paging Steven Spielberg - the issues raises ethical issues. Boiled down to one question: What's the point?
"There is no good scientific reason to bring back an extinct species," Poinar said. "Why would one bring them back? To put them in a theme park? Doesn't seem like a good use of taxpayer dollars to me. Simply studying their evolution, which can be done from old fossil bones, seems far more satisfying to me — but that's just me. Someone is going to do this eventually, ethics or no. And it might be expensive to try and clone mammoths, but how many people would visit the zoo to see one?"

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