Genetic Engineering Could Revive Extinct Woolly Mammoth

The world may soon see extinct woolly mammoths living again on Earth after scientists in Japan successfully revived cell parts from a preserved mammoth that last lived nearly 28,000 years ago. 

The mammoth, named Yuka, was found mummified in the frozen permafrost wastelands of northern Siberia in 2010. The Japanese team said her body was well-preserved that they were able to reawaken traces of her biological activity, ScienceAlert reported Wednesday.

Yuka's cell nuclei were implanted into the egg cells of mice, which showed signs of cellular activity that could lead to cell division.

"This suggests that, despite the years that have passed, cell activity can still happen and parts of it can be recreated," Kei Miyamoto, a genetic engineer from Kindai University, said.

The scientists extracted 88 nuclei structures from 273.5 milligrams of tissue from Yuka’s bone marrow and muscle. They then injected the least-damaged structures into living mouse germ cells in the lab.

During the experiment, the modified cells allowed the mammoth nuclei to reach spindle assembly, histone incorporation and partial nuclear formation. 

The results of their study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, marked a "significant step toward bringing mammoths back from the dead," Miyamoto said. "Once we obtain cell nuclei that are kept in better condition, we can expect to advance the research to the stage of cell division."

The less-damaged cell structures used in the study could hypothetically support further nuclear functions, such as DNA replication and transcription.

However, the scientist noted there is still a long way to go before they could resurrect woolly mammoths. To date, no technology is capable to support such cell modification and development. 

"The full activation of nuclei for cleavage was not confirmed," the team said. 

The same study on mammoth’s cells was conducted in 2009 but failed to reach a successful cell modification. Miyamoto’s team noted "technological limitations at that time" as well as the condition of the frozen mammoth tissues used led to challenges in that study. 

But the Japanese researchers said their latest discovery could provide a new platform to evaluate the biological activities of nuclei in other extinct animal species and support future efforts to try to revive them.