Cabinet of Curiosities #2: Woolly Mammoth Revival

Immi Marsh

In this episode of Cabinet of Curiosities, we’re time-travelling back to the Ice Age Tundra for the Woolly Mammoth revival. No, the resurrection isn’t the Natural History Museum’s finest taxidermy, nor is it a digital reincarnation in the Metaverse, but instead, we’re defying Darwin and resurrecting our ancient furry friend in gloriously hairy real life.

A project led by Colossal Biosciences, is set to turn Earth into a real-life Jurassic Park, concocting a genetically engineered Woolly Mammoth in a mad, but equally cool science experiment, equivalent to the 21st century Frankenstein. Using CRISPR genome editing, the lab plan to bridge the small but scientifically colossal 0.4% DNA gap between the woolly mammoth and the elephant to create the world’s first hybrid mammophant.

As roamers of the Arctic and Tundra, many mammoths never fully decayed and their fossilised remains have been left frozen in time for millennia. Colossal plan to recover this DNA and then introduce elements into the DNA of the Asian elephant by adding genes for mammoth-like traits such as dense hair and thick fat for withstanding the cold. The goal is to be able to produce embryos that they will inject either into an African elephant as the surrogate parent, or into an artificial womb, ultimately producing entire populations ready to roam the Tundra and Arctic lands once more.

Why are they doing it? Well it would seem the mammoth was quite the rockstar back in his day. A vital defender of planet earth, the lab claims that the revival of our long-lost tusky friend can decelerate the melting of arctic permafrost, prevent the emission of trapped greenhouse gases from the permafrost, revert over-shrubbed forests back into natural arctic grasslands, and even prevent the extinction of the modern day elephant.

Now this all sounds very admirable, but ever so like we’re playing God here. Is genetic engineering ethical, when so much is at play? The jury is out. Some scientists are unsurprisingly sceptical, some are fascinated, meanwhile, Bitcoin billionaires are betting big on its success.

The de-extinction of a mammoth-like elephant that could take at least 6 years to resurrect, is arguably low down on the planet-saving priority list, and that’s before they even begin to take to the Tundra and Arctic in their masses. Because despite their gallant plans to bridge the past few thousand years and decelerate climate change, Colossal do not have time on their side. The planet time bomb is a-ticking.

Why do we love it?

Humans and Neanderthals, together with natural climate change, helped to drive the Woolly Mammoth off the face of this Earth. Still refusing to believe that Mother Nature reigns supreme, we’re using intricate scientific tinkering and a very human urge to do the unthinkable: bring extinct animals back from beyond the grave. We have to admit, if they can pull it off, it will be outrageously impressive, if not totally insane. But it also offers a very wholesome reminder that anything can be possible on this little earth of ours, if you really put your mind to it.

Maybe, just maybe, the de-extinction of the Woolly Mammoth, in the most peculiar twist of fate, could resurrect earth from our impending doom. They best get cracking.


3 min02 Dec 21