The argument for bringing back woolly mammoths goes beyond how cool it would be.
Harvard geneticist George Church is already trying to take the genes that allowed mammoths to survive Arctic cold and put those genes into their closest living relatives, Asian elephants. If they succeed, these new mammoth-like elephants could theoretically repopulate Siberia and Northern Europe, where they’d face fewer threats from development than Asian elephants do in their current habitats.
This could help protect a threatened species of elephant “by extending its habitat range as far north as possible where the land is inexpensive and presents far less conflict over sharing land with farmers,” Church tells us by email.
Of course, de-extincting animals comes with technical and ethical risks. Loria writes:
If Church’s lab gets to the point where they actually want to implant some new mammoth-elephant embryos into elephants, they’re going to have to find some elephant eggs they can use. Then they are going to have to find female elephants whose wombs will be occupied for the next two years, in hopes of creating a beast that may or may not survive, and may or may not be capable of reproducing — wombs of creatures that are already rare. None of that is a simple scientific experiment, or a straightforward decision.
Get ready for a lot of amazing possibilities and hard choices like this.