Woolly mammoths are in the news again. According to recent news reports, they are “on the verge of resurrection” and “will be back from extinction within two years.” The prompt for this was a statement by the Harvard geneticist George Church, lead scientist for the “Woolly Mammoth Revival” project.
However, in the wake of the excitable reports, other commentators have been urging caution. The palaeontologist John Hawks went so far as to call the reports of the mammoth’s imminent revival “fake news“.
So are shaggy-coated pachyderms really poised to stampede across the frozen wastelands of Siberia any time soon? If such creatures are created, will they really be mammoths? And even setting aside exactly when this might happen, is it a good idea to bring a species back from the dead?
I am a former cell biologist and have spent the last two years researching and writing about de-extinction, the science of bringing extinct animals back to life. I have spoken with Church, as well as many of the other scientists at the forefront of de-extinction research, and two things are clear to me. The first is that a living, breathing woolly mammoth is far from imminent, and the second is that, nevertheless, the science needed to make it is progressing at quite a lick.