30 November 2020

Back to the Pleistocene!

Is it possible to clone a mammoth?

Oksana Shlyakhtina, "Scientific Russia"

On November 26, within the framework of the international forum "Days of the Arctic and Antarctic in Moscow", Professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and the Department of Medical Sciences and Technologies at Harvard and Massachusetts Medical Institute, American geneticist, molecular engineer and chemist George Church spoke about the need and possibility of restoring herbivore populations in cold lands. The forum also hosted a demonstration of the film "Genesis 2.0", which tells about the mammoth and attempts to clone it.

We recommend that you watch the full recording of the lecture (the fragments of the synopsis given here are sometimes puzzling) and the documentary in the original article – VM).

Carbon uptake in the Arctic and recovery of animal populations

In his online lecture, Church focused on biomodeling carbon uptake. The issue of carbon uptake in the Arctic is a colossal problem on an area of about 20 million square kilometers. 1,400 billion tons of carbon is formed in the Arctic soil, including methane, which has a much worse effect on the greenhouse effect. In addition, methane is dangerous because it can explode, and this, in turn, provokes the formation of sinkholes in uninhabited areas. The restoration of the grass cover will help to avoid the deplorable consequences. And the animal population will help reduce the carbon content and absorb it from the atmosphere. "This is the so–called albido – the rate of photosynthesis, which means the ability of plants to absorb carbon dioxide and carbon," explained the American professor. – And, secondly, the ability of animals to tamp down snow and get to grass deposits, bypassing thick layers of snow."

According to the scientist, when restoring the number of herbivores, it is necessary to take into account the characteristics of each of them. For example, a bison is able to lift a log, but will not be able to bring down a tree. Only an elephant can do this. "Trees become an integral part of the permafrost and take their part in carbon uptake, these deposits grow and make room for other populations," Church said. Elephants are also able to simulate snow. However, the elephant's main problem was its intolerance to severe frosts. The size of his ears, the fat layer and the nervous system distinguish them from the mammoth, for which frosts are a natural habitat.  As it turned out, this problem is solvable, since the elephant genome is close to the mammoth genome. Three changes in the genome contributed to the fact that elephants, unlike mammoths, do not withstand Arctic frosts. Scientists have already resurrected this gene.


From the presentation of D. Church

DNA decoding technologies are developing every year. The slightest change in DNA can affect 1400 gigatons of anthropogenic impact.

Scientists have tried to exclude porcine viruses from the genome using various methods. There are viruses in their body that, through transmission to another environment, pose a danger even to humans. "We tried to achieve, among other things, the exclusion of viruses from the genome. The point of this is that genome changes are applied, and at the same time we have healthy pigs that can reproduce, regardless of differences," Church said. The conducted research and experiments indicate that animal cloning is a reality.


Population in 50 years. From the presentation of D. Church

"Genesis 2.0"

The documentary was shot by Swiss director Christian Fry and a young Yakut director Maxim Arbugaev. The film shows an expedition of Yakut workers who found the remains of a mammoth with liquid blood. So well-preserved animal carcasses have never been found. This excavation gave many scientists who wanted to clone a mammoth hope for the successful implementation of their plans, because in order to do this, a living cell is needed.

"The film Genesis 2.0 was shot back in 2016, work on it began much earlier on the Novosibirsk Islands, where Maxim filmed how residents collect mammoth tusks. Then the film moves into the field of science and raises the question of how a mammoth can be cloned," Elena Grigorieva, PhD, head of the International Center for Molecular Paleontology at Northeastern Federal University, said in her opening speech.

The film was shot in Russia, at the Northeastern Federal University named after M.K. Ammosov in Yakutsk and at institutes in Korea, the USA and China. The film showed already existing animal hybrids: horses and zebras, goats and sheep, lions and tigers, llamas and camels. For the first time in history, we have the opportunity to design and change the physiological forms inhabiting our planet. 

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