Danielle LeVee, Global Animal
The long-extinct woolly mammoth may soon roam the Earth again. Researchers have recently found well-preserved woolly mammoth bone marrow, which contains undamaged nuclei. With nuclei in possession, scientists now have the complete genetic makeup of a woolly mammoth. If researchers are able to find living cells in these long-dead samples, then they will be one step closer to cloning a prehistoric species. (The next step would involve injecting the DNA of the mammoth into an enucleated egg cell of an elephant who will then act as the mammoth’s surrogate mother for her extended 600-day gestation period.)
So what’s the point? Why bring back an animal that most likely became extinct because of us?
The fact is most cloned animal embryos do not end up developing into healthy individuals nor living full lives. The cloning process is complex, and abnormalities are common. DNA has to be reprogrammed to its embryonic stem cell state so it has the ability to become any cell, then this stem cell has to be precisely handled, and feel at home within the surrogate’s body.
More often than not, cloning an animal is choosing to bring a sick life into the world. A life that is more so viewed as object rather than subject. The cloned animal will most likely be taken away for indefinite research and experimentation and will not be able to receive the love from family and friends that is developmentally essential, especially in this case where the animal cloned will be of another species living in an unnatural habitat. Furthermore, the clone, with its few to none population (limited gene pool), will be very disposed to environmental factors most likely quickly leading to its once again extinction.
Its a similarly awful situation for the surrogate mother. Her egg, that is produced only once every five years, is stolen for another purpose. The surrogate mother is then forced to carry an embryo that isn’t hers for almost two years. Elephants are highly social creatures who develop a very close attachment to their young and grieve for an extended period of time if their young dies. With elephants, even the extended family members grieve. Dolly was the only successful clone after 227 attempts!
The only reason I can conjure up for why scientists would clone a woolly mammoth is for scientific display—simply to show that it can be done. I have a brilliant idea, scientific community members: Let’s not and pretend you did.