Mammoth Clone: Science, or Simply Fiction?


Bill Gasperini

The idea of cloning a mammoth is just a fantasy,” says biologist Ross MacPhee, an expert on the giant fauna of the last ice age and chairman of the American Museum of Natural History’s mammalogy department. Alex Greenwood, a molecular biologist who studies ice age extinctions (and a colleague of MacPhee’s in New York), agrees: “I am really stunned,” he says, “that there are scientists still pushing this idea.” MacPhee, who has worked extensively with the Jarkov mammoth in Siberia, and Greenwood say that making an exact copy of a species that died off 10,000 years ago is possible only in science fiction movies.

The main reason is simple: To have any chance at a successful cloning, scientists must start with pristine, complete DNA. But even in cold environments, cells quickly break down after an organism dies; entropy occurs, and bacteria and certain enzymes latch onto or destroy cellular material. All the DNA found from long-extinct animals (even those remains found in the Siberian permafrost) has been incomplete and fragmented.

“If freezing is done under special conditions, such as in a modern laboratory, cells with their genetic material can be preserved indefinitely,” explains Russian scientist Alexei Tikhonov. “But conditions out in the permafrost are far from perfect.” Tikhonov has worked with the best-preserved mammoth ever found, a baby mammoth carcass pulled from a construction site in 1977. Nicknamed “Dima,” the small calf still had its skin and looked like it could have died just days earlier. But it probably fell into a mud pit and died quickly 44,000 years ago. Dima now rests in Tikhonov’s institute in St. Petersburg. Studies have shown that proteins in Dima’s cells were seriously modified after death, and that other substances common in living tissues (such as phosphorous) disappeared entirely.

Cloning is only possible when the nucleus taken from a living cell (such as with Dolly the sheep) is placed into an egg from which the original nucleus has been removed. This substitute nucleus, with its DNA, proteins and other crucial material completely intact, was what controlled the development of Dolly. Injecting fragments of DNA into a cell without a nuclear transfer would not result in a clone. Greenwood explains it this way: “If I throw all the parts needed to make a car down the stairs of a building, I will not have a Porsche 911 in the stairwell when they land.”

Ryuzo Yanagimachi, a scientist in Hawaii who has successfully cloned mice and other small mammals, says he would like to clone a mammoth. But he agrees that this could happen only if intact DNA is ever recovered from a long-dead mammoth. In recent years, a Japanese team has mounted several expeditions into Russia’s far north with the expressed aim of trying to bring a mammoth back to life. The team’s main intent is to recover frozen sperm from a mammoth and then use it to impregnate a female elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative. But Greenwood and MacPhee say this is equally problematic, even on the off-chance that intact sperm DNA from a mammoth could ever be found. “Mammoths and elephants have been separated by about 4 (million) to 6 million years of evolution,” says Greenwood. “This would be like crossbreeding a human and a chimp and expecting to have a successful generation of a hybrid.”

Is it possible that in the march of time and scientific advance, technologies may be developed that will allow extinct creatures to be cloned? Or, someday, may a perfectly intact chain of mammoth DNA be found? According to MacPhee, such questions remain too tough to answer. “There isn’t even a direction we can point to,” he says, “which would indicate whether cloning extinct animals will ever be possible.”

© 2005 Discovery Communications Inc.


Baby Mammoth discovered in Siberia in 2007

Eric Adler
Cloning a Better Tomorrow


21 gedachten over “Mammoth Clone: Science, or Simply Fiction?

  1. Brian

    I cloned a mammouth, but it ate too much so I froze it, I am selling the meat on ebay, I will trade the sperm to the japanese (this time it wont bemine, i promise…) for a new wii. We should learn from the past, and race to breed midget-elephants and use them to replace dogs, as we can burn the poo as fire-wood to stop global warming.

  2. Jan

    With next gen sequencing and aDNA damage models it might be possible to construct a relatively complete genome of a mammoth. If a method of de novo chromosome synthesis is developed then the idea of creating mammoth resembling animals isnt as far sought.

    But what would be the use? Well you can keep it in a zoo and charge people big bucks to see it. but other than that it would be pretty useless.

    But creating midget elephants to be pets… Now thats a good idea!



  4. Thetruth

    this dorkwad forgets we have computers that will one day be able to guess the rest of the chain from what it already has.

  5. Victoria

    they shouldnt clone anything thats dead the are gonna try to make a prhistoric park and clone the evidence of the dinidors and what if the dinicors get out

  6. Jake

    If they can maintain that “PREHISTORIC” park correctly, I see no problem with it. Please, Victoria, before you post something like that, at very least spell basic words such as “Shouldn’t” “Going to” “Prehistoric” and “Dinosaurs” correctly. There is a reason dinosaurs died out many years ago, if such a thing could occur, (I’m not saying that it can…) we have new weaponry technologies that would literally blow a hole the size of your house through any such being. By the way, the world IS flat!

  7. Karla

    Cloning mammoth’s is crazy!!…. And imposible. it is ‘prehistoric’ news, scientist have imparently trying to clone a mammoth’s for years. I mean come on ! Can humans walk on water? Can humans raise the dead? Can penguins fly in thin air? Can humans live two hundred years?


    Even if they collect enough blood…….

  8. fthrjack

    Most of the obstacles mentioned in this article have since been over-come. I love it when some pompus museum dork gets dragged out of a dusty cupboard because they are an “authority” on some subject – and completley get it wrong.

    Mammoths WILL be cloned or recreated, face it. Why? – because there is a will to do so. Simple really – and one day perhaps even Dinosaurs, though i suspect those will be fully engineered specimens.

    Mammoth genome has now been 80% mapped –

    And Karla../ much of your post made little to no sense! can humans live to two hundered years? hmm no not currently, about 120 topside, im sure with some science thrown at it that we will be seeing 200 year old humans – thing is we will be dead by then, or 200 year old 😉 As for the humans walking on water bit, well yes we can, with foam floats.

  9. Davy

    Imagination seems generally lacking. The DNA sequence for the mammoth has already been worked out. It’s short-sighted to think the technology to reproduce a working sequence in vitro will never be discovered.

  10. Bjarktan

    i also think it will be possible, in due time ofcourse. maybe in 50 years, maybe in 100 or maybe in 1000 …..but eventually they will be able to do it….well if we havent blown ourselves up by then xD

    the question is, is it right to do so?
    and i dont mean just the mammoth… science does allot of things that shouldnt be able to happen, and eventually we”ll just lose track of our own creations and shit like that. i mean, the whole quantum physics thing…..great stuff, very damn usefull to but when they start tampering the whole space time thing, crap is gonna go wrong 😀 sooner or later, its gonna go wrong! 😀 so very very horribly wrong…. not my problem though, wont be here anymore by that time ^^

    so yeah, they”ll most likely be able to clone a mammoth… just keeps evolving. if ya told some dude in ancient egypt that in 10 000 years or so (yeah fuck make fun of me, i dunno when egyptians lived, all i know its a few 1000 years before the whole christ thing), that we’d have steel birds and we’d be flying to da damn moon…..well ….imaginge the look on his face ^^
    im no bio engineer or whatever but it seems obvious to me that some day, they will be able to clone mammoths ^^

  11. Maria


  12. Sam

    I think scientists are trying to be kind of like God, recreating life and all.

  13. James West

    My goodness, you really are allvery pessimistic. Get your facts right. We have found an almost pristine sample of mammoth DNA. Recently, an article was published in National Geographic explaining how one might be able to clone a woolly mammoth. By extracting enough genetic material from the remains, by cloning that material and inserting it into a female elephant, we would end up with a mammoth-elephant hybrid. Then we would mate that hybrid with another hybrid, and by repeatedly breeding it, we would end up with a mammoth. Another, more thorough idea, would be to clone the mammoth and insert it into an artificial womb, a feat of which we would need technology currently unaccesible. Or we could just selectively breed a hairy elephant until we get a mammoth.

  14. Viswanath

    Exhausted things can be recreated or dis-covered but it should have any impact or harm to the existing creatures…….!!!!!!!! It shows the ability of Human beings

  15. Bio student

    Well as has been said 80% of the genome of the mammoth has been mapped (and they got the DNA for mammoth hair, so blood won’t be needed)
    So getting the full mammoth genome is not a problem, the problem is “making” the mammoth DNA.
    Which can be insterted in a Oocyte of a elephant, which could develop in the womb of the to a mammoth. (since the asian elephant is simmilar to the mammoth at about 99,41 %, this could work)

    But the creating of this DNA (or synthetically enginering this DNA) I think is the biggest task, but it could be very possible within the next 10 years, because now the man behind the human genome project is trying to synthetically create bacterial DNA and from what I read, he is actually pretty succesful.

    So cloning a mammoth: most cetainly Science, and possible.

    (and yes, it has no other function than showing off a mammoth in the zoo, but hé, I think it is real cool :D)

  16. sean brian

    ya i think it is possible too clone animals its even possible too clone plants.we just need to use our technology in the right way too make a better futuer for our children too see and experiancec the things that we never had a chance to

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