Woolly Mammoths


    In News

    • The United States startup Colossal Biosciences has announced plans to bring woolly mammoths, or animals like them, back from extinction and into the frosty landscape of the Siberian tundra.


    • Colossal proposes to use CRISPR gene-editing technology to modify Asian elephant embryos (the mammoth’s closest living relative) so their genomes resemble those of woolly mammoths.
      • CRISPR is the gene-editing tool; Cas9, associated genes, “cuts” DNA.  
    • Embryos could then theoretically develop into elephant-mammoth hybrids (mammophants).
    • Purpose: To release herds of these mammophants into the Arctic, where they will fill the ecological niche mammoths once occupied.

    Need & Benefits

    • Plug Climate change: Helps in restoring tundra ecosystem, trees, prevent permafrost melting and fertilising grasses with their faeces.
      • Recreate the steppe ecosystem (a large, flat grassland).
      • Otherwise, melting of the Siberian permafrost brings ecological disaster.
      • The woolly mammoth’s vast migration patterns were seen as critical to preserving the Arctic region’s environmental health.
    • Proven Evidence: Example: reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s brings positive changes for flora & fauna.  
    • Impact modern science: Genomes are an historic record of adaptation to survive billions of years of catastrophes, and changing conditions.
    • Future Conservation: Enhance our understanding and ability to conserve critically endangered species

    (Woolly mammoth migration into and out of North America occurred over thousands of years over the Beringian land bridge.)

    Mammoth Species

    • About: Mammoth is any member of an extinct group of elephants found as fossils in Pleistocene deposits over every continent except Australia and South America.  
      • The Pleistocene Epoch began 2.6 million years ago.
      • The Holocene Epoch began 11,700 years ago and continues through the present.)
    • Woolly Mammoths: The woolly, Northern, or Siberian mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) is by far the best-known of all mammoths.

    Concerns Raised

    • Disturb the ecosystem: Bringing back extinct species, whose ecological niches may no longer exist, will upset existing ecosystems. 
    • Issue of Moral hazards: People start believing extinction is not forever. 
    • Opportunity costs: No guarantee that engineered mammoths adopt the behaviours of ancient mammoths.
      • They will likely cost more than saving existing species from extinction.
    • Behaviour concerns: They will have no such counterparts to learn from.
      • For instance, we inherit more than just DNA sequences from our parents. We inherit epigenetic changes, wherein the environment around us can affect how those genes are regulated.
      • We also inherit our parents’ microbiome (colonies of gut bacteria), which plays an important role in our behaviours.

    Way Forward

    • The opportunity costs of de-extinction should be carefully scrutinised.
    • Moving towards increasing extinctions is the status quo, and this status quo is not worth preserving.


    Source: DTE