Scientists Want to Resurrect the Woolly Mammoth, but Is It a Good Idea?

Scientists Want to Resurrect the Woolly Mammoth, but Is It a Good Idea?

After making considerable progress in the field of genetics, scientists are looking at bringing wooly mammoths back from extinction, but should they?

It is undeniable that the progress made in genetics in recent years has been truly spectacular. With the advent of gene editing tools, it is now possible to cure many diseases that were once considered incurable, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. A greater understanding of genetics allows for much more, such as resurrecting extinct animal species.

But as the famous quote in Jurassic Park goes, the "scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." It is an appropriate question to raise when looking at bringing back species from extinction. 

Perhaps no other species' resurrection sparks as much emotion as the woolly mammoth. People are fascinated by them due to their historical significance as Ice Age icons, their impressive size and distinctive appearance, and the fact that scientists have discovered many well preserved specimens. The idea of their de-extinction naturally makes us curious about the possibilities of reconnecting with the past

In 2021, the biotech company Colossal Biosciences received $15 million to support research in this area and an excellent expert as project leader—geneticist George Church from Harvard University. The idea is ambitious and has both supporters and opponents. Technically, the resurrection of mammoths is possible, but should we do it? Scientists are divided on this issue.

Biotechnologists at Colossal want to use CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology to modify the embryos of Indian elephants (the closest living relatives of mammoths). Embryos with altered genetic material could theoretically develop into elephant-mammoth hybrids, so-called "mammophants," which would resemble and behave like the extinct woolly mammoths. However, they would not be exactly the same species.

Nevertheless, the revival of woolly mammoths poses significant ecological, ethical, and scientific risks. Ecologically, reintroducing a long-extinct species could disrupt current ecosystems and threaten existing biodiversity. Ethically, the process raises questions about animal welfare and human responsibility toward nature. Scientifically, our incomplete understanding of mammoths' genetics and behaviors could have unforeseen consequences, and a small, genetically limited population could face health issues.