Scientists take step towards cloning ice age beast

After a six-year search Japanese scientists are preparing to clone prehistoric woolly mammoths from frozen DNA samples found in Siberia.

Inspired by Dolly the sheep—cloned from the cell of an adult ewe in Scotland in 1996—and the film Jurassic Park, researchers from Kagoshima and Kinki universities and the Gifu Science and Technology Centre began the search in 1997 for sperm or tissue from mammoths preserved in the tundra.

The plan was to find a frozen male, recover samples of its sperm, inseminate a modern elephant and create a mammoth-elephant hybrid.
No sperm was ever found. Several mammoths, preserved in the permafrost, have been identified in Siberia but the DNA was degraded.

In the past five years, researchers all around the world have kept alive the dream that they might be able to restore extinct species by cloning. The Australian Museum in Sydney announced a plan to restore the Tasmanian tiger, which vanished more than 60 years ago, by taking DNA from pickled puppies in a Victorian biological collection. China announced a project to clone the giant panda, because captive breeding has proved so difficult. US researchers managed to clone the gaur, a threatened species of Indian bison, three years ago but the calf died shortly after it was born to a cow.

The Japanese scientists collected samples of bone marrow, muscle and skin from mammoth remains found in Siberia last August. Yesterday, after a year fighting Russian bureaucracy, the samples arrived.

The researchers face a series of new hurdles. First, they have to confirm the samples are from mammoths, then see if they can isolate a full set of chromosomes. Then they would have to fuse an egg from a living relative—an elephant—with DNA from an extinct creature. Then there would be the challenge of implanting the embryo into the womb of a host mother.

If they overcame all these challenges, they would then be faced with the biggest of all: what to do with a lonely ice age mammal in a rapidly warming world. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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