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Scientists to bring back woolly mammoth

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    28th Sep, 2021

Context

Scientists are planning to bring the woolly mammoth back to life with the help of CRISPR gene-editing technology to insert an extinct mammoth’s DNA into the genome of an Asian elephant.

About

About the species

  • Woolly mammoths went extinct around 4,000 years ago at the end of the last “ice-age”.  

Ice Age

  • An ice age is a period of colder-than-usual global temperatures and bigger-than-usual glaciers and ice sheets. 
  • The Ice Ages began 2.4 million years ago and lasted until 11,500 years ago. 
  • The latest ice age peaked about 20,000 years ago, when global temperatures were likely about 10°F (5°C) colder than today.
  • In addition to the woolly mammoth, mammals such as saber-toothed cats (Smilodon), giant ground sloths (Megatherium) and mastodons roamed the Earth.
  • They may have died off when the weather became warmer and their food supply changed. 
  • Their ears were smaller than those of today’s elephants. This was probably an adaptation to the cold climate that kept their ears closer to their heads and kept them warmer.
  • Their tusks were very long, about 15 feet (5 meters) and were used for fighting and digging in the deep snow.
  • Mammoths were herbivores and ate mostly grass, but also ate other types of plants and flowers.

The process

  • The DNA, collected from mammoth tusks, bones and other preserved body parts found in ice, will be sequenced to create an “elephant-mammoth hybrid”.
  • It would look like a furrier, larger elephant with smaller ears and a high-domed head.

What is Genome editing?

  • Genome editing or gene editing is a group of technologies that give scientists the ability to change an organism's DNA.
  • These technologies allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome.
  • Several approaches to genome editing have been developed.
    • A recent one is known as CRISPR-Cas9, which is short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and CRISPR-associated protein 9.

Asian elephant

  • The Asian elephant is the largest land mammal on the Asian continent.
  • Habitat: They inhabit dry to wet forest and grassland habitats in 13 range countries spanning South and Southeast Asia. Currently occurs in the following regions:
    • Indian subcontinent: India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh
    • Continental southeast Asia: China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Malaysia
    • Island Asia: Andaman Islands (India), Sri Lanka, Sumatra (Indonesia), and Borneo (Malaysia and Indonesia)
  • Conservation status: Endangered
  • Scientific name: Elephas maximus indicus
  • Height: 6.5–11.5 feet
  • Weight: Around 11,000 pounds
  • Length: Around 21 feet
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