Friday, January 21, 2011

How to Clone a Wooly Mammoth... start with frozen mice and beef cattle until an Elephant comes along.

The extinct woolly mammoth could be brought back to life in as little as four years thanks to a breakthrough in cloning technology, a Japanese researcher says.

Akira Iritani, a professor at Kyoto University, says he wants to resurrect the species that died out 5,000 years ago by recovering nuclei from cells in the skin and muscle tissue of mammoths found in Siberian permafrost and inserting the nuclei into the egg cells of an African elephant, which will act as the surrogate mother for the mammoth, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported Thursday.

Plans to resurrect the mammoth have been in place since 1997. During three separate studies, a research team from Kinki University in Japan obtained mammoth skin and muscle tissue excavated in good condition from the permafrost in Siberia.

But they soon discovered that most nuclei in the cells were damaged by ice crystals and were unusable. So the project was abandoned, according to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbum.

Japanese researchers said in 2008 that they successfully cloned a mouse from a body that had been frozen for 16 years, which they claimed theoretically opened the door to preserving endangered animals and resurrecting extinct animals such as the woolly mammoth.

Minoru Miyashita, a professor at Kinki University, was asked last spring to join the project. He has petitioned zoos to donate elephant egg cells when their female elephants die so more research can be done.

However, a technique pioneered at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, was successful in cloning a mouse from the cells of another mouse that had been frozen for 16 years.

"Now the technical problems
have been overcome, all we need is a good sample of soft tissue from a frozen mammoth," Iritani says.

Iritani said he estimates that another two years will be needed before nuclei can be obtained and the elephant impregnated, followed by the approximately 600-day gestation period.

"The success rate in the cloning of cattle was poor until recently but now stands at about 30 percent," Iritani said. "I think we have a reasonable chance of success and a healthy mammoth could be born in four or five years."

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