Using a technique that produced a mouse from tissue frozen for 16 years, a scientist at Kyoto University plans to clone a mammoth within the next four to five years.
AP photo by Francis Latreille
Dr. Akira Iritani has announced that he is going to produce a living woolly mammoth baby by 2016. Although past efforts to clone mammoth tissue have failed due to the degradation of what small amount of tissue we have. Most of it has been frozen and partially decayed, leaving nothing suitable for cloning. Dr. Iritani is hopeful, though, due to a relatively new technique he hopes to use. It is based on a technique that successfully cloned a mouse from tissue that had been frozen for sixteen years. That pales in comparison to the thousands of years that mammoth DNA has been frozen, but it does give a glimmer of hope.
For the cloning to go forward, Dr. Iritani will need a number of relatively hard-to-get things. First and foremost, he'll need a piece of frozen mammoth tissue at least three centimeters square from a Russian lab. He'll need the ova of an African elephant to inject the tissue into, and the elephant itself to carry the little mammoth baby to maturity.
He'll also need a great deal of research done. The mammoth isn't around anymore for a reason, and if that reason includes environmental reasons, it will be a challenge to keep a baby mammoth alive. There will also be plenty of debate about whether or not to display it, keep it in a private facility, or even figure out how to breed it.
Most of all, he'll need to keep to a tight schedule. The rate of successful cloning of mundane animals like cattle is only 30 percent, and the mammoth will have a gestation period of over a year and a half. That means Dr. Iritani will have only a little over two years to unfreeze the DNA, fertilize the egg, and knock up an elephant. The clock is ticking.