In five years, scientists could create a “cold-resistant elephant” (mammoth) embryo. Gestation in the womb of an Asian elephant surrogate would take another two years. So says Dr. George Church, a Harvard University biologist.
The mammoth midwives would use CRISPR technology, a breakthrough in DNA sequencing, to mirror Asian elephant genes to the genome of the woolly mammoth. Church makes it sound simple: “We could easily make tens of thousands of these elephants.”
Although the genetic basis for the cold-resistant elephants would be the mammoth, Church says that the goals are to protect Asian elephants and to stabilize Arctic habitats. The Asian elephant population is dwindling for deforestation and herpes. Having elephants graze in the tundra would reduce carbon emissions by keeping soil temperatures low.
Here’s an excerpt of what Church said in an interview with the Huffington Post:
CRISPR turned out to be easier than expected. The growing of embryos is harder to predict. I would say it will probably take us five years to work out the embryo development part, and then it takes at least two years to go through full gestation. So we might be seeing the first new baby elephants in seven years. Maybe a decade. That’s pretty soon…
I call them cold-resistant Asian elephants. What are unambiguously woolly mammoths are the DNA we’re drawing inspiration from and literally moving from the computer back into Asian elephants. What the hybrid will be called will be up to popular decision making that’s outside of my realm. I’m not going to call them mammoths unless somebody insists. They’re elephants with mammoth DNA.