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The origin of the rumor
In 2017, George Church, the scientist behind Colossal, announced that the first hybrid of elephant and giant would appear “in two years”. Four years later, there is still no giant in sight. Designers argue that the funds were not enough. Never mind: This new company is benefiting from $15 million in financial support thanks to investors and donations. This time around, the promoters are giving themselves more space and estimating that the project could see the light of day in 10 years.
1) Does the technology exist? Yes and no
It will be necessary to do two passes to “resuscitate” the mammoth. One is at the genetics level, and the other is at the level of an artificial uterus.
In terms of genetics: Using DNA fragments found in mammoth fossils, researchers want to edit the genome of their closest relative, the Asian elephant. Thanks to technology CRISPR, which allows genetic manipulation using a Much more accurate 10 years ago, they cut specific DNA sequences in an elephant embryo and replaced them with specific DNA sequences in mammoth bones.
On the load side: This fetus is then placed in an artificial womb, for a period of 22 months, which is the duration in the case of the elephant. The cause of the artificial uterus: The Asian elephant is considered an “endangered” species, and it will take an unknown number of pregnancies before he can hope to complete this hybrid “elephant mammoth.”
If CRISPR technology Advance very fast In recent years, the artificial uterus has only been in its infancy.
in a Most optimistic estimates From mega businessman and co-founder Ben Lamm, if all goes according to plan, the first baby mammoths will be born in six years. However, this mammoth hybrid will take another 14 years to reach sexual maturity and possibly reproduce.
2) Where are they?
- In 2017, she established Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia A artificial uterus To keep a pregnancy alive for four weeks. It would now be necessary to develop one not only to complete the pregnancy of an elephant calf, but an elephant calf which would, moreover, reach nearly 100 kilograms at birth.
- The Colossal team targeted about sixty genes that give the mammoth its characteristics, including its tolerance to cold and its thick layer of fat. These are the genes that will be incorporated into the Asian elephant. The downside: In 2015, a team of geneticists May be estimated in 2020 How many differences between the genomes of two mammoths and those of today’s Asian elephants, that is maybe underestimate.
3) A solution to the problem of climate change?
Before criticism World Health Organization interest dispute To put the same amount of energy into “reviving” extinct species Instead of saving An endangered species, the founders of Colossal have in the past two years offered an unprecedented explanation: the mammoth. It would help fight climate change.
We know that the Arctic is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the planet. Permafrost (permanently frozen ground) thaws quickly and, if this trend continues, will release large amounts of carbon dioxide2 The methane is trapped there. By reintegrating the Siberian mammoth, these large herbivores could displace the tundra by grazing and recreate the lush grasslands of the past. Because turf provides better soil insulation than tundra, permafrost will remain frozen even during the summer, preventing greenhouse gas emissions.
It is clear that mammoths alone cannot overturn an ecosystem. To get a flock, it will take several decades. Which, at the rate at which the planet is heating up, may be too late.
4) A moral choice?
Even if he succeeds, the counterpart of this dream is the animal don’t work to adapt to its environment and become a kind of“Eco-zombie” that wanders without really participating in their ecosystem. In fact, there is no guarantee that a hybrid of mammoth and elephant will adopt the same behavior as its extinct cousins, and the environment has changed much in 4,000 years.
It remains a questionable hypothesis. In 2017, scientifically and technologically, there was no reason to take the possibility of short-term mammoth cloning seriously. CRISPR technology has made giant strides since then, but all other questions remain unresolved.
Photo: Royal British Columbia Museum/Wikipedia Commons
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