At that time, researchers learned how to reconstruct the genomes of extinct species from fragments of DNA extracted from fossils. It became possible to locate the genetic differences that set ancient species apart from their modern cousins, and how those differences in DNA created differences in their bodies.
Dr. Best known for inventing methods of reading and manipulating DNA, Church wondered if he could effectively revive an extinct species by rewriting the genes of a living relative. Since Asian elephants and mammoths share a common ancestor, who lived about six million years ago, Dr. Church that it might be possible to modify an elephant’s genome to produce something that looks and acts like a mammoth.
Beyond scientific curiosity, he argued, resuscitated woolly mammoths could help the environment. Today the tundra of Siberia and North America, where the animals once grazed, warms up quickly and releases carbon dioxide. “Mammoths are hypothetically a solution for this,” argued Dr. Church in his lecture.
Today the tundra is dominated by moss. But if there were woolly mammoths around, it was mostly grassland. Some researchers have argued that woolly mammoths were ecosystem engineers who tended to grasslands by breaking up moss, knocking down trees, and fertilizing with their droppings.
Russian ecologists have imported bison and other live species into a reserve in Siberia they called the Pleistocene Park in hopes of turning the tundra back into grassland. Dr. Church argued that resurrected woolly mammoths could do this more efficiently. The restored grasslands would keep the soil from melting and eroding, he argued, and could even trap the heat-storing carbon dioxide.
Dr. Church received a lot of press coverage but little cash over $ 100,000 from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Dr. Church piggybacked the mammoth research on to other, better-funded experiments. “This set of tools can be used for many purposes, be it de-absorbing or recoding the human genome,” said Dr. Hysolli.
Analyzing the genomes of woolly mammoths collected from fossils, Dr. Hysolli and her colleagues compiled a list of the main differences between animals and elephants. They examined 60 genes that their experiments suggest are important for mammoth’s distinctive traits, such as hair, fat, and the woolly mammoth’s distinctively domed skull.