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Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and billionaire worth $2.7 billion, has allegedly put $100,000 of his own money into a project that aims to resurrect wooly mammoths. The costly proposal will alter elephant cells using DNA retrieved from dead, frozen wooly mammoths- large animals who went extinct thousands of years ago for reasons unknown to scientists.
In a book named ‘Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of the History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures’, by American author Ben Mezrich, allegations of Mr. Thiel’s participation with a high-standing Harvard team experimenting with the resurrection of mammoths, were made.
The author of another book surrounding the founding of Facebook and eventual book-based film, ‘The Social Network’, Mr. Mezrich reported that during a breakfast with the head of the Harvard team, Professor George Church, Mr. Thiel was petitioned to fund the ‘craziest thing’ he was currently doing.
Instead of an anti-ageing project and an artificial intelligence venture, Mr. Thiel decided on the mammoth, reported the author.
This past February, the Harvard team declared that it would take only two more years to generate the ‘nearest possible thing to a mammoth’ that could be assembled. The final product would be a combination between an Asian elephant and a mammoth which would be assembled from DNA collected from frozen, wooly mammoths who died in the permafrost.
The cluster of cells would possess mammoth genes such as long, shaggy hair, an abundance of fat layers, and blood flawlessly designed for survival in sub-zero temperatures.
Instead of acquiring a female elephant to carry and birth the new creature, scientists are hopeful that they will be able to succeed in growing it in an artificial womb.
From the start of the task in 2015, the numbers of ‘edits’ where mammoth DNA has been combined with the elephant genome has been increased from 15 to 45 by researchers.
Professor Church relayed: ‘We’re working on ways to evaluate the impact of all these edits and are basically trying to establish embryogenesis in the lab.
‘The list of edits affects things that contribute to the success of elephants in cold environments.
‘We already know about ones to do with small ears, sub-cutaneous fat, hair and blood, but there are others that seem to be positively selected.’
He also went on to announce: ‘Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant/mammoth embryo. Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits.
‘We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.’
During the last Ice Age, the woolly mammoth trekked across Asia, Europe, North America, and Africa. They disappeared around 10,000 years ago. The closest living creature to the mammoths is the Asian, not the African, elephant.
With state of the art gene editing procedures, ‘de-extincting’ the beast has entered the realm of possibility. The new editing capabilities make possible the particular selection and infusion of DNA from mammoth samples that were frozen over a thousand years ago in Siberian ice.
CRISPR/Cas9 is the method that is used the most and has greatly altered genetic engineering since it was introduction in 2012. CRISPR/Cas9 uses the ‘cut and paste’ guidance of DNA strands with an exactness that has yet to be seen thus far. With this procedure, scientists would be able to cut and paste frozen DNA from the mammoths into Asian elephants, creating an elephant-mammoth hybrid.