Can They Bring Back Mammoths?


Photo: Aunt_Spray via Getty Images

A quantum leap in genomic biotechnology offered the likelihood of resurrecting a long-extinct wholly mammoth - or maybe "proxy" ones with ecological functions and traits identical to the extinct mammoths.

The last set of mammoths got into trouble. Left alone on Wrangel Island, Russia, a small land very near the coast of Siberia, this previous group on Earth was unhealthy and frail from decades of persistent inbreeding.

The prehistoric Proboscidea were not as fertile as they used to be, their skins took on an unusual translucence, and many suffered neurological setbacks. The species vanished for good some thousands of years ago.

Today, the only resemblance of a mammoth you will likely see is a huge reconstruction model in a museum - the structure and size of its bones outlining the beast. But beyond their skeletons, mammoths have more to offer. When the likelihood of reincarnating the pachyderms back to reality often makes news headlines, paleogenetics are investigating how the mammoths existed and died through their genes and bones.

The glacial age icons are model creatures for scientists, a comparatively new area following technological advances that allow pieces of extinct DNA to be recognized, duplicated, and examined. Mammoths used to be familiar creatures - distributed across the Northern part of the planet - and existed lately enough for researchers to reclaim genetic elements from their leftovers. And frozen dead bodies recovered from Siberia primarily raise the ghost of de-extinction. Why can't we bring back the mammoth if we have so many of them?

But comprehending these animals and perhaps replicating them is difficult. Data from mammoth genes and bones give conflicting explanations of which pachyderm mammal belongs to which species. The more observers learn about mammoths, the more it is obvious we need a reintroduction of the extinct beasts before trying to re-produce them.

The Making of a Mammoth

The unearthing of a mysterious mammoth was the first idea that the extinct pachyderms' story was more convoluted than initially thought. A group called the Jeffersonian mammoth, usually found in the American Midwest, continued to show up during research. It appeared to have similar traits to the Columbian and woolly mammoth.

When these specimens were examined as part of a fossilized mammoth documentary project, several other types of mammoths that didn't fit neatly into one group or another were discovered.

Besides finding many of these mammoths, Missouri and Iowa have many fossils resembling Columbian mammoths and share few similarities with the Jeffersonian mammoths, sometimes even woolly mammoths. But when researchers observed the genes of these vanished animals, the intermediates began to make more sense.

The genetic discoveries counter the classifications initially made from skeletons. Instead of complete divisions between many mammoth species, there might have been a specie that could vary wildly but still possess the ability to inbreed with different inhabitants.

Initial research suggested that different mammoth species possibly have interbred. Still, there was proof that this was a standard part of the mammoth lifestyle rather than something rare. Today, a similar trend can be observed among some species of mammals like elephants.

Consider contemporary African elephants that seem to interbreed between savanna and morphologically distinct forest elephants with overlapping ranges. I can envisage mammoths doing the same thing.

This genetic detail is transforming our knowledge of what the mammoths were, which matters for paleontologists' endeavors that seek to bring the animal back to existence. North America's mammoths may be small or large, short-haired or shaggy, while still being part of the same species. If observers try to re-produce a mammoth by randomly selecting the best traits, they will miss a large part of the concept.

The Process of Bringing Back Mammoths


Photo: aleks1949 via Getty Images

Somehow it is alluring to envision the scientific scenarios of a mammoth fetus in laboratory test tubes; the possibility of bringing back Mammuthus might go a different direction. Cloning requires a viable and intact mammoth cell. Such a cell has not been found by anyone before. Considering how cells deteriorate after death, it is relatively impossible that scientists will discover an ideal cell for cloning. I think scientists would likely attempt to alter a living mammoth relation into something like a mammoth through a gene-editing mechanism.

For instance, if a group of researchers was to alter the DNA of an African elephant - the mammoths' closest existing relative - into a mammoth-like creature, it wouldn't be a proper comeback but a best-guess kind that leaves a bit out.

The more we understand mammoths' morphology, population dynamics, and behavior at different places and times, the more we know them as adaptable and highly variable animals.

Suppose scientists were to produce woolly mammoths; their model creature would require the ability to inhabit various habitats. The freezing, non-forest grassland that permitted woolly mammoths to grow all over the Northern Hemisphere is almost gone. 

The last remains of such areas may soon vanish with continued climate change. Fine-tuning a reincarnated mammoth to have an ideal, invariable physique of the typical woolly mammoth will be an artificial buildup that won't match what we see in the fossil records.

The Life of a Resurrected Mammoth

Even if scientists successfully resurrect a mammoth to look like its ancestors, it would have a tough time teaching its herd the lifestyle of the original mammoths of the past. So much like contemporary elephants, mammoths would likely have complex behavior passed down from generations of mammoths over time.

Scientists should know that even if they brought back a mammoth and had one to study, they still wouldn't be able to explain how the original, vanished mammoths behaved, except they can re-create their misplaced ecosystem and redesign their entire population.

A modern mammoth would be outrightly disconnected from its ecosystem - the ice age. However, it is essential to understand that the environment is as vital to mammals as the details of their DNA.

Paleontologists found the ideology behind the lifestyle of mammoths and how they existed in the fossil record and the scraps of their old genes. Trying to re-produce creatures from incomplete data is dead on arrival; we are best off leaving the Glacial Age icons in the past and relying on paleontologists to unravel their story.

Conclusively, just share your idea with me in the comment section.



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