Reviving Giants: Exploring the Prospect of Cloning Woolly Mammoths from Extinction with Discovery of 40,000-Year-Old Ice Age Remains

Woolly mammoths could be brought back from extinction after a preserved body of one of the ancient animals was found frozen in the snowy wastes of Siberia, scientists hope.

The mammoth, which took its last steps around 40,000 years ago, is in such good condition that biologists believe they may be able to clone the creature.

An autopsy of the Ice Age beast, which has been nicknamed Buttercup by scientists, will be shown in a documentary later this month.

Back from the dead? Scientists hope to bring woolly mammoths back from extinction after a preserved body of the ancient animal was found frozen in Siberia

An autopsy of the huge creature – nicknamed Buttercup – will be shown in a Channel 4 documentary later this month

The Channel 4 programme will also examine pioneering work on cloning the woolly mammoth, which is taking place in South Korea and the US.

Scientists hope that, eventually, they will be able to reintroduce the huge creatures back into the wild, tens of thousands of years after they became extinct.

Insung Hwang, a South Korean geneticist, told the Independent: ‘Bringing back the mammoth either through cloning or genetic engineering would be an extremely long process. We’re trying hard to make this possible within our generation.’

‘That’s why we have to start discussing the implications now. Some of our colleagues are still working on analysing the genome from Buttercup’s specimen. This is a long and complicated process that is unlikely to be finished anytime in the near future.’

Dr Tori Herridge, an expert on mammoth biology at the Natural History Museum who took part in the work, thinks cloning the animal would cause too much suffering for surrogate Asian elephants used in the process.

She said: ‘The guys from South Korea, who are collecting tissue for cloning, were excited because the better preserved the tissue, the greater their hopes were that there would be some intact DNA.

The remains of the mammoth, which took its last steps around 40,000 years ago, are in such good condition that biologists believe they may be able to clone the creature

The scientists hope that, eventually, they will be able to reintroduce the huge creatures back into the wild, tens of thousands of years after they became extinct

‘The most fundamental step and ethical concern with this kind of procedure is that you need to have an Asian elephant surrogate mum at some point. Cloning a mammoth will require you to experiment on probably many, many Asian elephants.

‘As a palaeontologist, you normally have to imagine the extinct animals you work on.

‘So actually coming face-to-face with a mammoth in the flesh, and being up to my elbows in slippery, wet, and – frankly – rather smelly mammoth liver, counts as one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It’s up there with my wedding day.

‘The information gleaned from Buttercup’s autopsy about her life and death, and the future discoveries that will come from analyses of her muscles and internal organs, will add to our understanding of these magnificent Ice Age beasts.’

The adult female was discovered in May 2013. At 8ft tall, the mammoth, who is estimated to have died at the age of 50, is around the same size as an elephant.

Most of her body, three legs, her head and her trunk were still intact, despite scientists believing Buttercup was eater by predators after becoming stuck in a bog.

Sia

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