During that time, researchers learned how to reconstruct the genomes of extinct species from DNA fragments extracted from fossils. It became possible to identify the genetic differences that distinguished ancient species from their modern cousins, and how those differences in DNA caused differences in their bodies.
dr. Church, who is best known for inventing ways to read and edit DNA, wondered if he could effectively revive an extinct species by rewriting the genes of a living relative. Because Asian elephants and mammoths share a common ancestor that lived about six million years ago, Dr. Church that it would be possible to modify an elephant’s genome to produce something that would look and behave like a mammoth.
Scientific curiosity aside, he argued, newfound woolly mammoths could help the environment. Today, the tundra of Siberia and North America, where the animals once grazed, is warming rapidly and releasing carbon dioxide. “Mammoths are hypothetically a solution to this,” argued Dr. Church in his speech.
Today, the tundra is dominated by moss. But when there were woolly mammoths, it was mostly grassland. Some researchers have argued that woolly mammoths were ecosystem engineers, preserving grasslands by breaking down moss, knocking over trees and fertilizing their droppings.
Russian ecologists have imported bison and other living species to a reserve in Siberia they’ve named Pleistocene Park, in hopes of turning the tundra back into grassland. dr. Church argued that resurrected woolly mammoths could do this more efficiently. The restored grassland would prevent the soil from melting and eroding, he argued, and could even trap heat-trapping carbon dioxide.
The proposal of Dr. Church attracted a lot attention from the press, but little funding over $100,000 from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. The lab of Dr. Church relied on mammoth research on other, better-funded experiments. “This set of tools can be used for many purposes, be it de-extinction or recoding of the human genome,” said Dr. Hysolli.
dr. Hysolli and her colleagues analyzed the genomes of woolly mammoths collected from fossils, and listed the key differences between the animals and elephants. They focused on 60 genes that their experiments suggest are important for mammoth’s distinguishing traits, such as hair, fat and the woolly mammoth’s distinctive high domed skull.