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CRISPR – Woolly Mammoths and Pleistocene Park

Pleistocene

PleistoceneCRISPR Genetic Technology

A relatively new genetic technology called CRISPR may enable scientists to make permanent changes in DNA. One of the most renowned experts in this area is George Church, a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. He has been responsible for a number of innovations related to genome sequencing. He is also working on splicing Woolly Mammoth DNA with that of its closest modern-day relative, the Asian Elephant. The Woolly Mammoth was the largest herbivore of the Pleistocene period.

Woolly Mammoth DNA

The discovery of a nearly entire well preserved Woolly Mammoth a couple of years ago, in Siberia’s, Lyakhovsky Islands made finding viable Mammoth DNA a real possibility.  No one is saying that they can resurrect the Woolly Mammoth. Not like they did with T-Rex and other animals in Jurassic Park. What is being considered is splicing Woolly Mammoth DNA into that of its closest living relative. The intent is to provide this new breed with many of the traits of its ancient cousin. This will allow it to tolerate and hopefully thrive in the Arctic. Long thick hair, a thick layer of insulating fat, smaller ears and other characteristics that may make it possible to reintroduce this huge well adapted herbivore into the Arctic planes. 

With the help of CRISPR technology splicing viable Mammoth DNA with that of an Asian Elephant is not only a possibility, it is already under way. Woolly Mammoths can play an important role in reversing global warming, but more on that later.

PleistoceneSo why do this?

The northern part of Siberia has been going through a number of changes over the past several decades. The human population has mostly moved to the cities but more than that is at play here. Experiments designed to slow the thawing of the Arctic permafrost has been underway for some time now. This has been studied for decades by the Russian ecologist and scientist Sergey Zimov. Zimov is the founder of the Pleistocene Park project who’s goal is to revive and restore the Arctic planes. Zimov along with his son Nikita spend much of their time at the North-East Scientific Station located in the northeastern part of Siberia above the Arctic circle near the town of Chersky working on developing Pleistocene Park.

What’s At Stake?

Data shows that this experiment in what seems like a type of terraforming right here on planet earth will slow global warming. Permafrost is the layer of earth that lies below the frozen north. In some places, this layer could be as much as a mile deep. A layer that if left to thaw completely, could rapidly speed up global warming by releasing a huge amount of carbon into the atmosphere in a short period of time. Twice as much as what is in our atmosphere right now.

PleistocenePleistocene Park

During the Pleistocene period, the great white north was populated with millions of large herbivores, grazing on the vast planes. These herbivores included Woolly Mammoths, Horses, Elk, Reindeer, Musk Ox, Wapitis, Bison and much more. Some experts feel the extinction of large herbivores of the Pleistocene was due to climate change. Others feel this was due to overhunting of large animals in the region by humans. This makes sense since this period, about 10,000 years ago is when humans were making their way to the top of the food chain.

On the planes, three feet of snow acts as an insulating layer that helps keep the permafrost layer cold. Compress that three feet of snow under the feet and hoofs of large herbivores and the insulation is increased significantly. Experiments have shown that the deeper layers stay colder, longer.

A Great Experiment

Over time, forests encroached on the planes and it turns out, forests do not reflect sunlight as well as grassy planes. The great experiment of Pleistocene Park is to restore the great planes of Arctic Siberia and stretching into North America. The long-running project led by the Zimovs is making progress.  More and more large herbivores are being introduced to the region. The process of knocking down trees and repopulating the area with thousands of large herbivores began in 1988 and continues today. 

With the Woolly Mammoth being the largest herbivore of the Pleistocene period it makes sense to reintroduce them into the region.

A lot more has been written on this subject.  If this article sparks your curiosity to learn more, a  Google search for any of the following will produce a lot of information.

  • “Sergey Zimov”
  • “Pleistocene Park”
  • “CRISPR”
  • “George Church”

How awesome it would be to see Woolly Mammoths or a close relative of the species walking the earth again.  Question, is Man playing God, or is he performing an intervention on a sick planet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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