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Jurassic Park?  Scientists plan to create a 4,000-year-old extinct giant hybrid

Jurassic Park? Scientists plan to create a 4,000-year-old extinct giant hybrid

If you ever dreamed of visiting Isla Nublar, immortalized by the Jurassic Park concession, know that scientists are striving to restore extinct species, such as the mammoth, and make this wish come true. In recent years, scientific developments have allowed unimaginable feats, and in this scenario the team at Colossal – founded by Ben Lam – is working. In a maximum of six years, they should introduce a hybrid that fuses the (extinct) woolly mammoth and the Asian elephant.

The undertaking seeking to revive an animal that became extinct more than 4,000 years ago and lived in frozen regions off the coast of Russia may seem, in part, an illusion, but it may not be so either. Behind the ambitious project is the desire to prevent other species from becoming extinct. “There is a huge opportunity to take advantage of these technologies to not only bring back the mammoth, but to protect endangered species on Earth today,” bets Lamm.

Mammoths, extinct 4,000 years ago, could return to live on planet Earth (Image: Reproduction/John Benitez/Unsplash)

“I’ve started reading a lot about biodiversity loss due to man-made climate change, and some of the more conservative estimates have been that between now and 2050 we will lose 10 to 20% of our biodiversity,” Lamm says. Faced with this reality, new initiatives must learn how to conserve and restore species.

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CRISPR technology and the return of the mammoth

The potential return of mammoths and countless other species would only be possible with CRISPR technology. This is a gene editing tool that has been in development since 2000 and works as a kind of genetic scissors. This is because it can be used to cut or add certain extensions of a genome to another genome. This technology has already been successfully tried, even in space by astronauts.

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To cut and paste genetic information, scientists use a segment of RNA with a short sequence, which will act as a guide and will bind to a specific segment of the DNA of an existing genome. This RNA will also bind to the Cas9 enzyme.

In this way, the RNA recognizes the part of the genome that needs modification and the Cas-9 enzyme cuts the specific part. After the DNA is cut, the infected cell itself reconstructs its sequence of genetic information, including extensions or removals, as directed by the exogenous RNA. In this way, properties that do not occur naturally can be expressed.

How would it be possible to create a hybrid animal?

Now, the process of reviving extinct species is much longer and more complex than simply modifying a portion of the genome. The whole story begins with the reconstruction of the DNA of a woolly mammoth. When an animal dies, its DNA begins to degrade, which means that the samples researchers have are, for the most part, incomplete.

In this way, the researchers collected as many genomic fragments as possible and compared the genome of the extinct animal with the genome of a nearby genetic relative, in this case the Asian elephant. Thus, it is possible to obtain an almost complete genetic map of the species.

When Project Colossal began, other scientists had already sequenced part of the mammoth genome by sampling the animal’s remains preserved in the frozen Siberian tundra. The team then compared the incomplete mammoth genome to the genome of a modern Asian elephant. They both share 99.6% of their DNA. In this way, it was possible to identify the genes responsible for many of the main characteristics of mammoths, such as tolerance to cold, small ears and fur – elephants have a very different coat of fur.

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In 2015, scientists were able to successfully transcribe mammoth genes into the Asian elephant genome using CRISPR technology. Now, researchers must turn this modified genetic information into specialized hybrid cells, such as blood or liver cells. In this context, it will be necessary to understand how cells are affected by induced genetic changes.

Then the team would, in theory, be ready to go ahead and get to the development of mammoth embryos, which can be implanted in an artificial uterus or carried by a female Asian elephant. In the end, the result should not be an exact copy, but rather a hybrid of a mammoth and an Asian elephant. But the creature will have the main characteristics of a mammoth, if everything goes as expected. After all, theory is usually easier than practice.

Source: super cluster NS enormous

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