Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Woolly Mammoths to Walk the Earth Once Again?

Woolly Mammoths to Walk the Earth?
Many millennia ago, giant creatures roamed the land until natural factors killed them off, or in the case of our large woolly friend, man hunted them to extinction. I am of course speaking about the woolly mammoth, with its unmistakable large woolen coat that sets it apart from its modern day cousin, the elephant. What would the world be like if we could bring back such a creature, and where could this lead?
                                            The large Woolly Mammoth (above)

One such company wishes to divulge this question. Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation has signed a deal with the North-Eastern Federal University of the Sakha Republic to bring the woolly mammoth back to life (AFP, 2012). What Sooam wants to do is use the mammoth cells from the University and replace the nuclei of the egg cells of the elephant with somatic cells (cells such as organs and skin) of the mammoth and use the elephant as a surrogate mother (AFP, 2012). 

Now, this isn’t the first time that a different species has been cloned through the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer. In 2001 Advanced Cell Technologies, a company in Massachusetts, successfully impregnated a cow with gaur cells, and she gave birth to a baby gaur by the name of Noah (Bird, Barnes, Cray, Skari, Walker, 2001). There have also been mice, bovine, pigs, goats, horses, wildcats, and even camels. Unfortunately though, the success rate for cloning is very low, ranging from 0 – 20%, and in some animals such as mice, abnormalities such as abnormal placentas and death can occur (Thuan, N., Kishigami, S., Wakayama, T., 2010)

                                              An adult gaur (above)

In order to create Noah, an oocyte had its nucleus removed, and a somatic cell is put in its place. An electrical current is then used to fuse this cell to the oocyte and then this oocyte is implanted into a cow. As stated earlier, the success rate of these cells developing properly within the egg is very low and in this particular experiment, 692 cow oocytes were fused with gaur cells, but only 81 of these developed to blastocytes, and 42 of these were inserted into 38 cows, with only 8 becoming pregnant (Bird,  et al, 2001).

In conclusion, if the cloning of endangered or extinct species does become a rousing success, where will this lead us? It could be that in our lifetimes we see the re-emergence of such urban legends as the Tasmanian tiger, or we may be able to visit the zoo and view our old friend the woolly mammoth. If mammalian cloning is successful through somatic cell nuclear transfer, it may be that human cloning could happen in the future, too.


AFP, 2012, Agence France-Presse, 13 March 2012, viewed 14 March 2012, retrieved < http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jFKsLZoidLt58zgUpmS3M-mAsFOQ?docId=CNG.c3a9e6de1510ab5f6807fbfeea405230.4c1

Bird, Barnes, Cray, Skari, Walker, 2001, Time Magazine,  8 January 2001, viewed 14 March 2012, retrieved < http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,998910-1,00.html

Thuan, N., Kishigami, S., Wakayama, T., 2010, ‘How to Improve the Success Rate of Mouse Cloning Technology’, Journal of Reproduction and Development, vol. 56, no. 1, pp 20, viewed 16 March 2011, J-stage, item: 1348-4400. 

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