Gas station without pumps

2015 April 19

How to clone a mammoth

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:42
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One of my most popular blog posts was a tongue-in-cheek one, Bring back the mammoth!, which has had almost 3000 views since I wrote it. Now a UCSC assistant professor has written a serious book on the subject:

Biologist Beth Shapiro explains the science of ‘de-extinction’ in new book

A leading expert on ancient DNA, Shapiro aims to separate science from science fiction in her new book ‘How to Clone a Mammoth’

April 13, 2015

By Tim Stephens

Tired of answering questions about cloning mammoths, Beth Shapiro, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, wrote a book called How to Clone a Mammoth. (Spoiler Alert: You can’t actually clone a mammoth.)

See Biologist Beth Shapiro explains the science of ‘de-extinction’ in new book for the rest of the press release.

Maybe this summer I’ll have time to read the book.


  1. The article was very informative,but there are two things i wasn’t sure about in the article. First in the article it says “Does the genome need to be repaired before putting it into elephant egg cells?”. What do they mean by repairing it? Is it because the woolly mammoth is so old that needs to be examined and fix for it to function properly when placed into the elephant cells? Also the second thing i didn’t really understand was why does it have to be a certain type of elephant. Why is the Asian elephant most related to a woolly mammoth? Is it because the Asian elephant has features like the woolly mammoth?

    Comment by cloning4321 — 2015 April 20 @ 07:37 | Reply

    • Ancient DNA is very fragmented and damaged. Reconstructing the genome from that low-quality data is very difficult. Even sequencing still living mammals is difficult, and we don’t have the complete genome sequence of any multi-cellular organism (not even humans). Currently, the reconstruction of ancient genomes results in a very large number of reconstruction errors, some of which can be repaired by similarity to very similar stretches of DNA in other organisms. Other errors will remain, just because of the noisy nature of the data.

      Probably the best we could do currently is to identify the major differences between mammoths and elephants and insert genes and regulatory sequences reconstructed from mammoths into an elephant genome. The more closely related the genome is, the more likely we can get something mammoth-like when we’re done. It isn’t clear to me that attempting such a project is even ethical, given that elephants are not doing very well as a genus, and there isn’t really expected to be much suitable habitat for mammoth-like animals in the next few centuries.

      I believe that the relationship between mammoths and modern elephants was determined from the DNA data, not from morphological similarity. That is, the similarity was measured at the molecular level, not at the level of features.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 April 20 @ 08:09 | Reply

  2. Bring it on! I can’t wait for mammoths! I’m also hoping for lab-grown tasmanian tigers one day soon.
    How much do you think differences in mitochondrial DNA between mammoths and modern elephants could affect successful transplantation? Do we have any mitochondrial mammoth DNA? I feel like it should be as preservable as genomic DNA but perhaps I’m wrong?

    I would also like dodos back.

    Comment by cshooter — 2015 April 21 @ 07:25 | Reply

    • Mitochondrial DNA is the most abundant (many copies per cell) so tends to be the easiest to reconstruct. I’m not sure, but I think that mitochondrial DNA also evolves more slowly than nuclear DNA (not having crossover every generation), and replacing mitochondria by ones from a closely related species is unlikely to be a problem. I think that other differences are likely to be much more important, particularly subtle differences in fetal development, which we have no way of knowing in advance, and which are controlled by rather distributed information in the genome which is not as highly conserved as protein-coding genes, and so more likely to be reconstructed erroneously.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2015 April 21 @ 08:02 | Reply

  3. […] much content that was on of my most popular blog posts: Bring back the mammoth! and in April I noticed that Beth Shapiro (a UCSC professor in ancient DNA) had published a book, How to Clone a Mammoth. […]

    Pingback by De-extincting mammoths | Gas station without pumps — 2015 August 2 @ 09:48 | Reply

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