April 12 - Russian scientists, in cooperation with counterparts in Japan and South Korea, have begun work on resurrecting the extinct woolly mammoth, using biological material recovered from Siberian permafrost to create a clone. Jim Drury reports.
Russian schoolchildren view the skeleton of a woolly mammoth in a museum. But in ten years time they could come face to face with one of the prehistoric pachyderms in real life. That's the aim of scientists from Russia, Japan, and South Korea working to bring the species back from the dead. Recent thaws in Siberian permafrost have uncovered the remains of several woolly mammoths. Scientists hope to use the recovered biological material to clone the shaggy, Ice Age beast, by implanting mammoth DNA into an elephant egg. The resulting foetus would be grown inside an elephant's womb. Semyon Grigoriev, head scientist at Russia's Northeast Federal University, is heading an expedition from all three countries to northern Siberia. SOUNDBITE (Russian) HEAD SCIENTIST AT NEFU UNIVERSITY SEMYON GRIGORIEVICH, SAYING: "This summer Korean scientists together with us will go on expeditions, starting from this year and in northern Yakutia will search for material from permafrost. They're bringing mobile laboratories from Korea and are planning to start working on the selection and cultivation of biological material." Mammoths evolved from hairless elephants in Africa, roaming North America and northern Eurasia, before becoming extinct almost 4,000 years ago. Scientists from Japan's Kinki University are also taking part in this summer's expedition. Biology professor Iritani Akira is project leader. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) BIOLOGY PROFESSOR AND LEADER OF MAMMOTH CLONING PROJECT AT KINKI UNIVERSITY IRITANI AKIRA SAYING: "The technology to extract and clone the nucleus of a cell already exists, but finding good quality samples, such as tissues, skins, muscles or bone marrows, has been the barrier in cloning prehistoric mammals." And good quality samples are what they're hoping to find on their trek. The scientists say the production of a successful clone could open the door to recreating other extinct animals - while helping prevent endangered species from dying out. They admit the scale of the project is elephantine but say that soon, if all goes according to plan, a live mammoth will once again roam the earth. Jim Drury, Reuters