Posted in Extinction, Mammoths, Mastodons, Pleistocene

And Just Where Would We Put Them?

Theoretically, it is possible to reclaim extinct beings, to spin evolution backwards. To recreate a mammoth all you need are a few live mammoth cells, since each and every cell contains complete genetic information.  Red-furred segments of mammoth flesh are not uncommon discoveries in Siberia, usually found by sled dogs that eagerly gnaw on frozen haunches.  But cells die if stored above minus 94º Fahrenheit, even for short periods.  Still, the possibility of finding live cells does exist.  Paleontologists in Ohio have isolated 11,000-year-old bacteria from the stomach of a mastodon, the oldest living organisms ever found.

To recreate a mammoth, destroy the nucleus in the ovum of an Asian elephant.  Then inject live mammoth-cell DNA into the altered ovum and implant the artificial zygote into the uterus of an Asian elephant.  If the 22-month pregnancy is successful, you can expect the birth of a 100% mammoth baby.

Another method is to take mammoth sperm (selected to ensure female offspring), inject it into an elephant’s egg and wait 22 months for your mammophant, a half elephant, half mammoth calf.  Then wait until the hybrid is sixteen or so, breed it with more female-selected sperm, and in 3 generations of mammophants, say sixty years, the resulting pachyderm will be 90% mammoth with 16-foot tusks.  The obvious obstacle to this method is that hardly any non-degraded frozen mammoth cells exist, let along viable sperm.  And even if some were found, would two species separated by millions of years of evolution even be capable of producing offspring?

So let’s go back to the method that just might be successful.  Let’s find live mammoth DNA, or perhaps just replicate some of it, and join it with the ovum of an Asian elephant.  The resulting offspring would be a cloned mammoth.

Then what?

To get more mammoths you have to artificially construct more zygotes, which need more live mammoth cells, which would result in clones of clones –  unless you find a lot of live mammoth DNA from many different individuals.  And for such a project you need elephants as surrogate moms.  Endangered Asian elephants.  Even with a whole herd of resurrected mammoths, inbreeding could make the population nonviable.  Would a hyper-disease be resurrected too?  Could it jump to elephants?

And where would we put our newly minted species?  In zoos?  On reservations? In those isolated pockets we call National Parks?  While we’re at it, shouldn’t we resurrect some cavemen, too?  In Northern Siberia scientists are already attempting to create a mammoth ecosystem called Pleistocene Park.  Imagine the tickets they could sell to watch Neanderthals, our human cousins, hunting.

And where do we stop?  Do we bring back Saber-toothed Cats, Dire wolves and Giant Short-faced Bears? Do we re-create their habitats?  Lower the temperature of the earth four degrees in this time of global warming?  Bring back the Ice Ages?

Author:

Cheryl Merrill’s essays have been published in Fourth Genre, Pilgrimage, Brevity, Seems, South Loop Review, Ghoti, Alaska Quarterly Review, Adventum and Isotope. “Singing Like Yma Sumac” was selected for the Best of Brevity 2005 and Creative Nonfiction #27. It was also included in the anthology Short Takes: Model Essays for Composition, 10th Edition. Another essay, “Trunk,” was chosen for Special Mention in Pushcart 2008. She is currently working on a book about elephants: Larger than Life: Living in the Shadows of Elephants.

3 thoughts on “And Just Where Would We Put Them?

  1. I agree with Judith. It’s fun to imagine a living mastodon on contemporary earth — I enjoyed thinking about it it while reading this post. But by the end, Cheryl, your writing led me to feel that that actually doing it would be another one of those humans-trying-to-be-God fiascoes. Wouldn’t work out the way we think. Better to enjoy mastodons in the imagination.

  2. Too much meddling, already. Better to dwell upon the earth, fully honoring the existing life around us.

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