De-extinction: Should mammoths be brought back?


The woolly mammoth was one of the last in line of mammoth species before going extinct. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia) 

Have you ever imagined walking next to a woolly mammoth? What about a sabre tooth tiger? Whether scary or exciting, this could soon become a reality.

For years, the notion of cloning a long-dead species has been tossed around in the heads of leading scientists, spurred by the discovery of pre-historic mammoth hair encapsulated in ice, still containing cells and DNA.

There are three hypothesized methods of de-extinction, but the leading method involves genetic engineering. Using a genetic engineering tool (ie CRISPR), scientists would combine the old DNA with DNA from a closely-related species (elephants for the mammoth). The hybrid would then be implanted into the closely related species and after development, out pops the used-to-be extinct animal.

The result of this process would not be what one might call a woolly mammoth but instead a hybrid one that is genetically close to the original that scientists are getting very excited. Some have even started pricing out how much it would cost to shelter and take care of such de-extinct animals and their inquiries raise concern from conservationists, who work to save still-living species.

Researchers looked at databases, which track how much each species cost to keep, looking for analogues. What they found was not hopeful for de-extinction scientists. There are two ways to fund such a project: the government or private donors. The prior’s funds would most likely be taken from the already limited budget for conservation efforts.

Ignoring the obviously large cost to genetically engineer such animals, if all the conservation money was used to maintain resurrected species, researchers calculated that two species would go extinct for every one specie created.

If caretaking was instead funded privately, no less conservation would take place. Yet the study countered with the fact that if the privately-raised funds were instead allocated to conservation efforts, it would save “two to eight times more species.”

Modern day extinctions are often due to hunting or habitat loss. This was not the case long ago. It is well established that the Mammoths started dying out 10000 years ago when the last ice age ended. Sure, this is not the case everywhere as a small group survived on an island north east of Siberia up until 3600 years ago. However, there is no denying the planet is largely inhospitable for these creatures today. Whether or not the winters are getting colder or summers hotter, there are no ice sheets covering much of the planet anymore for mammoths to roam.

This may be a small problem, of course we could engineer an environment for them to survive in, it bares the question: should they be brought back to life? Darwin introduced a concept of evolution that states species who are not adapted for their current environment adapt or die off. The mammoth died off.

While the concept of raising an animal from the dead is enticing, economically it does not make sense. We should instead pour resources into saving species that already exist who are adapted for their current environment, who may not adapted to deal with humans.

We are in the middle of what scientists call the sixth mass extinction. An estimated 30 to 159 species disappear every day. We must find ways to slow this rate because the future of the planet does not bode well. While limited supplied resources often force conservations to be less effective than it could or should be, it would be a waste to spend what little there is on a project to clone a long-extinct beast.

David Csordas is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at

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