Scientists attempt to clone woolly mammoth

Scientists hoping to clone prehistoric woolly mammoths are preparing their first frozen DNA samples in a bid to revive the species.

The specimens of bone marrow, muscle and skin were unearthed last August in the Siberian tundra where they had been preserved in ice for thousands of years.

Researchers at the Gifu Science and Technology Centre and Kinki University want to use the genetic material in the cells to clone a woolly mammoth, according to Akira Irytani, a scientist at Kinki University in western Japan.

First they must determine whether the five specimens airlifted from Russia are really from mammoths. If so, they must decide whether the DNA locked inside is well enough preserved to self-replicate. After that, it could take several years to actually produce an animal. "There are many different problems to overcome," the Gifu Centre's Hideyoshi Ichibashi said. "I think we can move ahead only one step at a time."

The idea of cloning mammoths from specimens discovered in permafrost holds a perennial fascination for scientists since cloning of adult mammals was shown to be feasible with Dolly the sheep in 1996. But in 1999 Alexei Tikhonov, chairman of the Mammoth Committee of the Russian Academy of Science, who took part in an expedition that uncovered one of the animals buried in the permafrost, said he and his colleagues on the scientific committee were not preparing to clone the mammal. "You have to have a living cell for cloning, and not a single cell can survive in the permafrost," he said then.

Dr Irytani said the idea was to develop the cloning technology on extinct animals to aid in the preservation of endangered species. So far, six mammoths have been discovered and partially or completely unearthed from the permafrost, which is as hard as concrete and has to be broken up with jackhammers.

Kinki University scientists, with veterinary experts from Kagoshima University in southern Japan, have searched for mammoth DNA samples since 1997 in Siberia. The techniques used include ground-penetrating radar, which can detect the size and shape of buried objects.

So far, no cells bearing cloning-quality DNA have been found. The initial plan called for finding mammoth sperm cells, which could be used to inseminate a modern day elephant and create a mammoth-elephant hybrid. But no sperm cells have been found, and other samples retrieved during previous excavations, including legs buried under permafrost, have turned out to be left unusable by time and climate changes.

Dr Irytani was more hopeful about their samples, estimated at 20,000 years old, saying they had been well preserved in the ground at about -20C (-4F).

Mammoths died out about 13,000 years ago because humans hunted them to extinction. One plan to revive mammoths would not use cloning, but the more straightforward technique of artificial insemination of any intact sperm into African elephants, the mammoths' closest living relative.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test