Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Boundaries of Extinction Torn Down?

Since the beginning of life on earth; plants, animals and bacteria have been going extinct. The most famous of which are the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the contemporary Tasmanian Tiger. Up until recently, extinction was the end of a species. This often occurred as a result of a change in environmental conditions, or as this case has it; as a result of human interference. Either way, the creature would cease to exist. However, what if this was not the case? As a result of increases in technology and rises in genetic knowledge, cloning is now a feasible solution. Previously extinct species can now be brought back into existence; essentially tearing down the barrier between life and death. Sooam Biotech Research Foundation of South Korea aims to do precisely that. The foundation intends to use 10,000 year old cells from a snap frozen Woolly mammoth to bring the animal back to life. The question is no longer of “Can we?” the question is “Should we?” The ramifications of bringing back previously extinct animals could be long lasting and what would this lead to in the future?

The joint venture of bringing a mammoth back to life has been undertaken by the North-Eastern Federal University of the Sakha Reupublic and South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation¹. The project stated that it would be using somatic cell nucleus transfer to clone the mammoth; however, they also stated that the biggest problem would be finding well preserved tissue with undamaged genes¹.
 (Image One - Woolly Mammoth)
Somatic cell nucleus transfer (SCNT) is the main process used to clone adult cells. As it removes the nucleus (which contains the DNA), from a body cell (somatic cell), rather than from sperm or eggs and inserts that nucleus into an empty host egg.  The host egg/cell is then stimulated, which leads to mitosis and produces near exact replicas of the DNA of the original organism². Geneticists know that SCNT works, as it is not the first animal to have arisen as a result of the process. The famous Dolly the Sheep was formed through SCNT as well as many other animals such as mice, horses, pigs and rabbits. However, while it is successful the failure rate is quite high as the miscarriage rate for transplanted eggs is high.³
 (Image Two - Dolly the Sheep)
Therefore the Woolly Mammoth project is a very possible venture. As long as undamaged DNA is found. This future ability to clone animals however, will have serious ramifications. This is because it must be ethically decided whether or not something should be brought back. Yes, there are medical benefits through being able to clone at will; however, bringing back an organism that is extinct for a reason may have influences that are yet to be discovered. The ramifications are also that a precedent is set, and as such, it will open doors to other areas of genetic cloning. Including that which uses embryonic stem cells.

Overall, as the task can be completed, the main point is that it will affect future scientific experiments. There is no doubt that Genetics and cloning will play a much greater role in the scientific community in years to come.

1.     Physorg, S.Korean, Russian scientists bid to clone mammoth.
Available at:
[Accessed March 12, 2012].

2.    Science-daily, Somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Available at:
[Accessed March 14, 2012].

3.     Cosmos, Hello, Dolly: The sheep that changed the world | COSMOS magazine.
Available at:
[Accessed March 16, 2012].

4.     Image One – Woolly Mammoth
Available at:
[Accessed March 20, 2012].

5.     Image Two – Dolly the Sheep
Available at:
[Accessed March 20, 2012].

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