Science never ceases to amaze. A team of scientists at Harvard University has set out to recover the woolly mammoth, a species that went extinct 4,000 years ago. It seems like a chimera from Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, but they intend to recover this giant mammal using a hybrid embryo, joining DNA from the mammoth in question and its closest living relative, the Asian elephant.
Professor George Church will be in charge of directing the team. As explained in the British newspaper 'The Guardian' are just two years to achieve what they call "de-extinction" of the woolly mammoth with the development of hybrid embryos.
The woolly mammoth or tundra mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) is a species of proboscidean mammal of the family of elephants that probably became extinct due to an unsustainable hunting rate by Homo sapiens.
The first known members of the genus Mammuthus are the African species Mammuthus subplanifrons of the Pliocene and Mammuthus africanavus of the Pleistocene. It is thought that the former is the ancestor of later forms. Mammoths arrived in Europe about 3 million years ago, whose first known type was called Mammuthus rumanus, which spread through Europe and China. A population evolved and replaced the previous type, resulting in Mammuthus meridionalis. In turn, this species was replaced by the steppe mammoth, Mammuthus trogontherii, which evolved in East Asia about 1 million years ago. The mammoths that derived from M. trogontherii evolved molars with 26 edges 200,000 years ago in Siberia, and they became the woolly mammoth.
The scientific community showed that the divergence of the woolly mammoth, the African elephants and the Asian elephant occurred in a short period and confirms that the mammoth was more related to the Asian species than to the African ones. An important advance in this direction occurred in December 2005, when a team of American, German and British researchers were able to gather a complete mitochondrial DNA profile of the mammoth, which allowed to delineate the close evolutionary relationship between mammoths and Asian elephants. African elephants separated from the woolly mammoth about 6 million years ago, around the same time that the evolutionary separation between chimpanzees and humans occurred.
There were two distinct groups of woolly mammoths: one that became extinct 45,000 years ago, and a different one that would become extinct around 10,000 years ago.
Although many scientists remain divided about whether it was excessive hunting, climatic changes, or a combination of both, which led to the extinction of woolly mammoths, today the hypothesis of excessive hunting is the one that presents a greater consistency and it enjoys greater acceptance, without having definitively rejected the possible synergistic effect of climate change as a secondary factor.