Harvard Scientists Consider Reviving the Woolly Mammoth

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. revive / rɪˈvaɪv / (v) – to bring something back

    Scientists are finding ways to revive animals that lived during the ice age.

  2. hybrid / ˈhaɪ brɪd / (adj) – containing characteristics of two different elements

    They created a hybrid dog breed from an Akita and a German shepherd.

  3. specimen / ˈspɛs ə mən / (n) – a part of something that is used as a sample

    They kept specimens of the new species that they discovered.

  4. recipient / rɪˈsɪp i ənt / (n) – someone or something that receives

    She was the recipient of the blood donation.

  5. genetic / dʒəˈnɛt ɪk / (adj) – coming from the same DNA composition

    Hair color is a genetic trait.


Read the text below.

Harvard scientists claim that the woolly mammoth can be revived.

The woolly mammoth is an extinct animal, which travelled around Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America during the last Ice Age. Factors such as climate change and human hunting led to its extinction 4,000 years ago. However, a team from Harvard University recently announced the possibility of creating a mammoth-elephant hybrid embryo /ˈɛm briˌoʊ /.

To revive the woolly mammoth, the scientists will employ Crispr/Cas9 / ˈkrɪs pər kɑs naɪn /, a gene-editing technique that was first tested in 2012. It is based on a defense system bacteria used to fight viruses. This technique involves the insertion of DNA from mammoth specimens preserved in Siberian ice into normal elephant skin cells. Nuclei / ˈnu kliˌaɪ / from the altered skin cells will be inserted in emptied elephant egg cells, which will develop into embryos.

As the species resulting from the cloning process is not 100 percent mammoth, professor George Church, head of the team, pointed out that it would be like an elephant with some mammoth characteristics, such as small ears, thick hair, and cold-adapted blood.

The creation of the mammoth-elephant hybrid, or the “mammophant,” has two benefits if successful. First, it would help preserve the endangered Asian elephants, which are the recipients of the woolly mammoths’ genetic material.  Second, the mammophants could punch through ice as they walk on it, which will allow cold air to enter through the ground and prevent the ice from melting. As a result, high levels of greenhouse gas will be locked in the ice.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Should scientists focus on reviving extinct animals or on preserving endangered animals? Why?
• Do you think that the revived mammoth will survive the conditions in our present time?

Discussion B

• Aside from the woolly mammoth, what extinct animal would you like to see revived?
• Do you think scientists should control natural processes like extinction? Why or why not?