Harvard researchers say they're getting close to creating a hybrid embryo with genes of a woolly mammoth introduced into its closest living relative, an Asian elephant. The creature is sometimes referred to as a "mammophant," reports the Guardian. It would be somewhat elephant-like, but have mammoth qualities such as shaggy hair, small ears and cold-adapted blood. The team says they are still several years away from creating a living creature.
In April 2018, researchers announced they had isolated and "resurrected" 44 woolly mammoth genes, reports CNET. The hope is that this gene editing could be used to create hybrid elephants. "My goal is not to bring back the mammoth; it's to bring back mammoth genes and show that they work and that we have already done it," Harvard professor George Church says.
In a "first step" toward resurrecting the mammoth, researchers from Russia and South Korea are working to bring back another extinct animal, the Lena horse, using cells from a 40,000-year-old foal found in Siberia.
"[I]f we get the living cell from the ancient tissue it will be unique by itself, because no one managed to do this before," cloning expert Hwang Woo Suk tells the Siberian Times. "And if we manage to clone the horse, it will be the first step to cloning the mammoth. It will help us to work out the technology."
Some people have raised ethical questions about this goal, however.
"The proposed 'de-extinction' of mammoths raises a massive ethical issue — the mammoth was not simply a set of genes, it was a social animal, as is the modern Asian elephant," says Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester. "What will happen when the elephant-mammoth hybrid is born? How will it be greeted by elephants?"
Mammoths make particularly good candidates for resurrection because they went extinct so recently and because many intact specimens have been found frozen in the Arctic tundra.