Jurassic Park was a nightmare of a film that ultimately showed us that terrifyingly large reptiles went extinct for a reason. However, researchers at Harvard University may have missed the memo. No, there won’t be Tyrannosaurus Rexes running amok anytime soon. Instead, scientists are working on a process called de-extinction. The idea is that gene splicing extinct animals with the genetic material of their living relatives may lead to hybrid species sharing traits of both animals. With enough time and energy, these hybrids could lead to the comeback of plants and animals that we thought we lost millions of years ago.
The scientists use a gene splicing and editing tool called a CRISPR. The spliced genes of the frozen woolly mammoth were placed in the genome of its closest living relative, the Asian elephant. While more tests are necessary, the hope is that these genes can be placed in an embryo inside of an artificial womb. Asian and African elephants are quickly decreasing in numbers because of their proximity to humans. One of the many goals of the experiments is to develop a new elephant capable of living in colder climates. The team focused on the DNA coding for the mammoth’s small ears, long hair, and fattier skin. This would theoretically move elephants farther from human contact and preserve the species from further endangerment.
The remaining DNA of these animals, however, is degrading in quality and quantity, making the efforts to restore the extinct species time sensitive. Tentatively, the technology and approval to develop the elephant/mammoth hybrid may be ready in three years and the gestation process is only 22 months. In the near future, it may be very possible that woolly mammoths, dodo birds, or saber tooth tigers will walk among us once more.