Friday, May 23, 2014

The Plan to Turn Elephants Into Woolly Mammoths Is Already Underway


A man charged with thinking outside the box to solve huge societal problems with game-changing ideas at one of the world's most innovative companies stood on stage at a future tech conference in Washington DC last weekend and told a genetic scientist that he "would love to be alive to see a woolly mammoth." The genetic scientist looked back at him and laughed.

"What, are you sick?" he asked.

The implication of the exchange, between Google X's Richard DeVaul and Stewart Brand, a de-extinction expert, was clear: There's a mission to bring back one of history's most famous animals, it's already underway, and it's closer to becoming a reality than even some of the most forward-looking minds think it is.

For all the talk and attention it gets, de-extincting an animal isn't exactly easy—it's difficult to clone cells from an animal that has been dead for thousands of years, tougher to turn it into a viable embryo, and, most importantly, more difficult still to find a closely-related animal that can serve as a surrogate mother to give birth to the cloned animal. There's certainly work still being done in that area, but, increasingly, researchers are working to hybridize existing animals with extinct ones in order to create what Brand calls a "2.0" version of the animal.

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