The company that wants to bring back the mammoth believes it has taken an important step

The company that wants to bring back the mammoth believes it has taken an important step

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Researchers at Colossal Biosciences have successfully transformed elephant cells into universal cells that can become all types of cells in the body, the company announced. In a press release.

The study has not been published in a scientific journal yet, but has been published previously on bioRxiv.

In the past, so-called induced pluripotent stem cells have been created from humans and a number of animals. However, the same has proven difficult to achieve in elephants.

Colossal aims to recreate mammoths or rather elephants that have some characteristics of extinct mammoths. This new breakthrough is a step along the way, according to the company.

This is an important step with many applications that we are proud to share with the scientific community. “Every step brings us closer to our long-term goal of bringing back this iconic species,” says co-founder Ben Lam.

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Colossal envisions taking the Asian elephant as its starting point. They will use gene editing and other biotechnologies to produce elephants with fur, excess fat and other traits that could allow mammoth-like elephants to live on the tundra again.


Theoretically, it is possible to return Extinct species by cloning. You need healthy cells that contain genetic material. The genetic material can be inserted into an egg cell from the animal's closest relative. The embryo can then be transferred by a surrogate mother.

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This is it It is not possible to achieve it With mammoths, there are no healthy cells from the animal.

Another strategy is to start with cells from elephants and replace some parts of the DNA with mammoth genes.

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Mammoth DNA He was appointed. Scientists were able to decode it based on parts extracted from ancient remains. Thus, researchers can compare similarities and differences in the genomes of mammoths and elephants.

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Colossal wants to insert genes from the mammoth into the genome of the Asian elephant.

According to the site The changes would be about traits that made mammoths better prepared for the cold: smaller ears, fur, cold-adapted blood hemoglobin and excess fatty tissue.

The idea then is that the modified genetic material should be inserted into an elephant egg and developed into an embryo. Moreover, the plan is to introduce the embryo into a surrogate mother.

For use in research

Induced pluripotent stem cells were first created by Shinya Yamanaka and Kazutoshi Takahashi. They showed in 2006 that the body's normal cells could be reprogrammed again to become universal cells, such as those found in embryos. They achieved this by inserting four genes, According to the Biotechnology Council.

Pluripotent stem cells from humans are used, among other things, to create miniature models of brains and organs used in research.

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It is also possible To make gametes Of such cells. the A mouse was born Which depends on skin cells.

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The Colossal team will not use pluripotent stem cells to create embryos in the first place.

George Church says the cells will be useful in studying the genetic changes needed to create mammoth traits To nature. He is a geneticist and co-founder of the company.

“We would like to pre-test it before we put it in baby elephants,” says Church.

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According to an article From The New York Times as of 2021 Eggs are not harvested from elephants. From a longer perspective, this is an alternative to trying to make eggs and sperm from pluripotent stem cells.

The Church envisions that embryos could grow into baby elephants in an artificial womb.

– We do not want to disturb the natural reproduction of endangered species, he says to Nature.

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However, this is it Miles away What is possible today.

It's hard to make

Whether or not the new discovery helps produce hybrid mammoths, there are other uses for universal cells taken from elephants.

says Vincent Lynch, who was not involved in the study For the New York Times They could help learn more about the biology of elephants, including why they rarely get cancer. Lynch is a biologist at the University of Buffalo.

Ireona Hesoli, head of research at Colossal, believes such cells could also help protect living elephants. They can be used to develop eggs for breeding programmes.

Researchers say it has been difficult to produce pluripotent stem cells from elephants. They haven't finished exploring the reprogramming process, but this was the most successful attempt to date. According to the press release.

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Vincent Lynch tried it himself for several years. Using the usual method did not work. The researchers at Colossal have gone further, including blocking a gene that protects against cancer called TP53.

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Some still want better proof that elephant cells are induced pluripotent stem cells.

Sebastian Dicke, of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Germany, says he wants to see that cells can grow stably and turn into different types of tissue.

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He believes the mammoth will be positive for the environment

Colossal was founded by George Church and Ben Lam in 2021.

George Church is a professor at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is considered a pioneer in the field of genetic research.

The church has been working to return the mammoth for ten years. He believes that recreating the animal can have a positive impact on the environment.

One theory is that mammoths helped maintain grassy landscapes by removing moss, cutting down trees, and fertilizing with feces. The church believes they can also help preserve the ground's permafrost by crushing snow. According to NRK.

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Others Skeptics This is the kind of argument to bring back a mammoth-like animal.

In the Pleistocene Park, a nature reserve in Russia, large herbivores such as horse, bison, camels and muskrats were introduced. The park was opened in 1996. The aim is to investigate whether large animals can recreate the rich grassy landscape and contribute to the preservation of permafrost. According to Wikipedia.

However, a study from 2021 suggested that grassland landscapes in the north changed at the end of the last ice age. Because of climate changeThis causes problems for larger animals.

An alternative hypothesis is that humans exterminated large animals from grasslands, and that this led to other plants taking over.


Evan Appleton and others: « Elephant pluripotent stem cell derivation», available at bioRxiv, 6 March 2024.

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Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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