The woolly mammoth, extinct for thousands of years, could be brought back to life in as little as four years because of bored self-involved scientists looking for something to do that will make them rich and famous.
Previous efforts in the 1990s to recover nuclei in cells from the skin and muscle tissue from mammoths found in the Siberian permafrost failed because they had been too badly damaged by the extreme cold.
But a technique pioneered in 2008 by Dr. Teruhiko Wakayama, of the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology, was successful in cloning a mouse from the cells of another mouse that had been frozen for 16 years.
Now that hurdle has been overcome, Akira Iritani, a professor at Kyoto University, is reactivating his campaign to resurrect the species that died out 5,000 years ago.
“Now the technical problems have been overcome, all we need is a good sample of soft tissue from a frozen mammoth,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
He intends to use Dr Wakayama’s technique to identify the nuclei of viable mammoth cells before extracting the healthy ones.
The nuclei will then be inserted into the egg cells of an African elephant, which will act as the surrogate mother for the mammoth.
Professor Iritani said he estimates that another two years will be needed before the elephant can be impregnated, followed by the approximately 600-day gestation period.
He has announced plans to travel to Siberia in the summer to search for mammoths in the permafrost and to recover a sample of skin or tissue that can be as small as 3cm square. If he is unsuccessful, the professor said, he will ask Russian scientists to provide a sample from one of their finds.
“The success rate in the cloning of cattle was poor until recently but now stands at about 30 per cent,” he said. “I think we have a reasonable chance of success and a healthy mammoth could be born in four or five years.”