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Monday, January 17, 2011

Russian geneticists suggest breeding mammoths to fight crisis

Russian geneticists are working to resurrect the mammoth, the enormous cold-tolerant mammoth is an ideal animal for agricultural breeding, they say. "Our studies dedicated to decoding the mammoth's genome will soon allow us to resurrect this long extinct animal," Alexei Tikhonov, secretary for the National Mammoth Committee told MosNews reports.

"There are twoways to restore a species: the first one is cloning, but it requires a fully intact cell from the animal. When there is no cell left intact, but an animal can be recreated by decoding its genom," Tikhonov explained. According to researchers, by combining the genome of the mammoth and the Indian elephant, they will be able to create a transgenic animal.

Today, a mixed team of Russian and American scientists have almost completed decoding the mammoth's genetic identity.

"We already have the DNA from the hair of the famous Yukagir mammoth, found in Yakutia," Tikhonov said.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see a living mammoth in the very near future, although a lot depends on the funding, of course," he said.

In times of financial crisis, mammoth farms could be a real blessing, scientists say, as they would produce cheap meat, skins and precious mammoth ivory.

One average-sized mammoth of four or five tons would provide enough meat for a hundred people for a whole year.

Researchers also think the mammoth meat should have an excellent taste, as prehistoric people took pains to hunt the dangerous animals instead of opting for easier prey.

Mammoth 'could be reborn in four years'

The woolly mammoth, extinct for thousands of years, could be brought back to life in as little as four years thanks to a breakthrough in cloning technology.

Previous efforts in the 1990s to recover nuclei in cells from the skin and muscle tissue from mammoths found in the Siberian permafrost failed because they had been too badly damaged by the extreme cold.

But a technique pioneered in 2008 by Dr. Teruhiko Wakayama, of the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology, was successful in cloning a mouse from the cells of another mouse that had been frozen for 16 years.

Now that hurdle has been overcome, Akira Iritani, a professor at Kyoto University, is reactivating his campaign to resurrect the species that died out 5,000 years ago.
"Now the technical problems have been overcome, all we need is a good sample of soft tissue from a frozen mammoth," he told The Daily Telegraph.

He intends to use Dr Wakayama's technique to identify the nuclei of viable mammoth cells before extracting the healthy ones.

The nuclei will then be inserted into the egg cells of an African elephant, which will act as the surrogate mother for the mammoth.

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

He has announced plans to travel to Siberia in the summer to search for mammoths in the permafrost and to recover a sample of skin or tissue that can be as small as 3cm square. If he is unsuccessful, the professor said, he will ask Russian scientists to provide a sample from one of their finds.

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