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Woolly Mammoth Genome Has Been Mapped

on November 22, 2008

AP: “Woolly Mammoth Task: Extinct Critter’s DNA Mapped” The genetic code of the woolly mammoth has finally been (mostly) mapped, and the question on (almost) everyone’s mind is: can we bring one back?

A study published this week in the journal Nature details the million-dollar project so far, which has mapped about 80 percent of the mammoth genome. The sources for the DNA are about 20 frozen mammoth “hairballs” found in Siberia, which are, surprisingly, better specimens to work with than mammoth bones; the DNA in bones had been contaminated much more due to the intrusion of microbes.

"Just because we might be able to do it one day, should we do it?”

As for whether mammoths could be coming back anytime soon, Penn State University biochemist Stephan Schuster, one of the coauthors of the study, said, “It could be done. The question is, just because we might be able to do it one day, should we do it?”

The Associated Press report notes that even if scientists don’t bring back a woolly mammoth, they could still engineer a mammoth–elephant hybrid—a “hairy elephant,” the report puts it—for zoos.

Unsurprisingly, the report contains an evolutionary spin: “The more practical side of what this new research will do is point out better the evolutionary differences between mammoths and elephants and even humans and chimps.” It adds that while elephants and mammoths (allegedly) diverged around the same time chimps and humans did, there are “twice as many differences” between chimp and human genomes as between elephants and mammoths.

Not that many will listen, but might we suggest the similarity between the elephant genome and the mammoth genome is actually because the animals are, well, quite similar anatomically! In fact, woolly mammoths are probably part of the same created kind as elephants. On the other hand, chimps and humans have significant differences, not only anatomically, but also in behavior and intelligence. So of course our genomes are less similar!

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