Russian scientists, in collaboration with South Korea, are gearing up to open a £4.5 million (7.7 million CAD) ‘Jurassic Park’-esque cloning facility in the world’s coldest city of Yakutsk in North-East Russia. Yakutsk is the home of 80 percent of the samples of Pleistocene and Holocene soft animal tissues preserved in permafrost for tens of thousands of years.
More details will be revealed tomorrow, September 11th, by Vladimir Putin at the 4th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.
What we know so far is that among the targeted species for the de-extinction process are the woolly mammoth, cave lion, various breeds of extinct horses, and the woolly rhinoceros.
The “world class paleo-genetic scientific hub” will be based at Russia’s Northern-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) and will be working closely with the South Korean SOOAM Biotech Research Foundation, led by cloning expert Professor Hwang Woo-Suk.
In collaboration with Harvard University geneticist Professor George Church, the facility plans to have successfully inset woolly mammoth genes into an Asian elephant embryo by 2020. This possibility, which has been fantasized over for decades, will act as a precursor for future de-extinction projects. Additionally, there are even chances the elephant-mammoth hybrid will be allowed to roam freely within a controlled environment that simulates the mammoth’s natural habitat.
Finally, the Centre will also be doing research on rare genetic disorders which may have originated in extinct tribes but persist in North-Eastern Russian ethnic groups.
This all comes on the tail end of last year’s breakthrough in reproductive and cloning technology when a lamb fetus was successfully kept alive and grown in an artificial womb for 4-weeks, showing that it’s possible to give birth artificially, without a mother’s bodily involvement.
It’s been 22-years since Dolly, a fully cloned sheep, was born and now it looks like most of the tools (CRISPR may be another one) are in place for a ‘Brave New World’-type of cloning where you only need the DNA of a species to bring it back to life, clone it, and create an entire population from a single genetically modified tissue sample.
It’s likely there are going to be innumerable, unforeseen hiccups along the way, but the fact remains: we live in very interesting times and the possibilities are ever-expanding.