back to article Boffin: Will I soon be able to CLONE a WOOLLY MAMMOTH? YES. Should I? Hell NO

It will definitely be possible within the foreseeable future to bring back the long-extinct woolly mammoth, a top geneticist has said. However, in his regretful opinion such a resurrection should not be carried out. The assertion comes in the wake of a new study of mammoth genetics as compared to their cousins the Asian and …

  1. choleric

    I hear your point, but it's ethically wrong to do this from an evolutionary perspective. If the mammoths have died out then it's because they are no longer best suited to their environment. Other species have taken their place and it would be a retrograde step to bring them back. I think a creationist would argue for bringing them back on the basis that it's restoring the original masterpiece work!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "but it's ethically wrong to do this from an evolutionary perspective"

    Evolution has no ethics, a fact recognised by Tennyson even before Darwin published his book.

    He has Nature saying(In Memoriam):

    "So careful of the type?" but no./From scarped cliff and quarried stone/She cries, "A thousand types are gone:/I care for nothing, all shall go.

    "Thou makest thine appeal to me:/I bring to life, I bring to death:/The spirit does but mean the breath:/I know no more."

    If we were to bring extinct mammals back with bio-engineering we would be doing no more than the tobacco plant, which produces a substance that modifies our synapses to create a dependence that causes us to grow more tobacco plants. Everything that can messes with other creatures' biology in its own interests; the only difference is we know we're doing it.

  3. Fibbles

    Re: "but it's ethically wrong to do this from an evolutionary perspective"

    AFAIK the tobacco plant evolved to produce nicotine as a form natural pesticide. Humans becoming addicted to smoking the plant's leaves is relatively recent.

  4. choleric

    Re: "but it's ethically wrong to do this from an evolutionary perspective"

    @Arnaut the less

    I appreciate your point about evolution having no ethics. It's intriguing though to think that if evolution is what got us here then presumably that's something we think is positive. So why would we bring back something like the wooly mammoth? Or is that the evolutionary dead end of analytical thought?

    Your point comparing the roles of tobacco, humans and wooly mammoths was good too. I think though that the tobacco and the wooly mammoths are equivalent. The wooly mammoths don't have nicotine, but they look impressive/cute so maybe that's their evolutionary advantage. Looks like they had a good cryogenic strategy before we ever did.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: "but it's ethically wrong to do this from an evolutionary perspective"

    "AFAIK the tobacco plant evolved to produce nicotine as a form natural pesticide. "

    If you read what I wrote more carefully you will note that I didn't suggest that evolution was responsible for the tobacco plant evolving a substance addictive to us. It makes no difference if it was a side effect of the evolution of an effective pesticide, the point is that it was an unintended messing with our biochemistry.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: "but it's ethically wrong to do this from an evolutionary perspective"

    "I appreciate your point about evolution having no ethics. It's intriguing though to think that if evolution is what got us here then presumably that's something we think is positive."

    I recommend the popular articles on evolution by Stephen J Gould. He carefully dismantles our idea that evolution is somehow directed or positive with a series of examples (possibly not for the sensitive of stomach.) I can't link to them because I only have the dead tree versions.

    The idea that evolution is directed derives from the persistence of religious ideas, and our own belief that we are in some way the pinnacle of the natural order (that whole phrase is very suspect). It interests me that the brighter Victorian thinkers in England were already past this stage by the time Evolution of Species etc. was published, and so were ready for it, whereas human exceptionalism is still the order of the day in the US (except among scientists...)

    If the extinction event of 65Mya hadn't happened, would we be here?

  7. Antonymous Coward
    Holmes

    "If the mammoths have died out then it's because they are no longer best suited to their environment" then they'll only survive in small carefully managed populations like zoos and reserves. So what's the problem?

  8. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Re: "but it's ethically wrong to do this from an evolutionary perspective"

    @Fibbles - true, nicotine production originally evolved as protection against insects, but this doesn't invalidate Arnaut's point, "the only difference is we know we're doing it".

    Should we do it? Depends on the risk analysis, but it is probably easy to wipe out a large, slow-breeding species like mammoths than something that works on humans like myxomatosis works on rabbits if things go pear-shaped. (icon - "Take off and nuke it from orbit...")

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: "but it's ethically wrong to do this from an evolutionary perspective"

    "So why would we bring back something like the woolly mammoth?"

    Same reason we'd bring back the dodo, moa, great auk, aurochs, elephant bird, western black rhinoceros, quagga, cheetah, kakapo, pangolin, orangutan, tiger and any number of the innumerable other species which our wretched little infestation has/will eradicate(d)?

    Although, "cos they're funky looking" and "in case they taste nice" and "to see if we can" also all strike me as perfectly reasonable motivations.

  10. Martin Budden

    If the mammoths have died out then it's because they are no longer best suited to their environment.

    No, they died out because we stuck lots of spears in them. They'd survived all the previous warmer periods so their extinction wasn't environmental.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm alive!

    Yeah you are, but sorry but you've got no mates, nowhere to live, most of the little monkeys want to eat you and you won't have immunity to current versions of diseases.

    Anyway, got to go the buns have arrived.

  12. James Cane

    Re: I'm alive!

    In mammals, immunity to specific diseases is acquired not inherited. And anyway, vets.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: I'm alive!

    Yes, but a huge chunk is passed from mother to child.

  14. Antonymous Coward
    Facepalm

    Re: I'm alive!

    Its surrogate mother (cousin elephas maximus) will have perfectly current immunity. As will her offspring. Provided inter-species rejection weirdness doesn't necessitate excessive immunosupression during gestation, one might suppose.

  15. swampdog
    Facepalm

    Re: I'm alive!

    Good job you know your punctuation 'cos the "anyway vets" new album is about to go viral.

    [wtf am I on about?]

  16. James Cane

    Re: I'm alive!

    "Its surrogate mother (cousin elephas maximus) will have perfectly current immunity"

    Exactly. I do wonder if people think that cloned animals are grown in vats or something.

  17. Chris Miller
    Alien

    If we're going to terraform Mars, we'll need something to control the mammoths. How about a banth?

  18. Joe Cooper

    With all the wars, starvation, air strikes and cops chasing down broken youths for smoking the wrong type of cigarettes, it sure is fun to pretend that mammoth cloning is one of the great ethical questions of our time.

  19. thomas k

    @ Joe

    Bread and circuses, man, get with the program.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cops are already 1/3 of a mammoth in body mass, so the programme is progressing.

  21. Mark 85 Silver badge

    The mammoths just eat more donuts then?

  22. nuked
    Trollface

    We might get a picture of dinosaurs on an Ark after all...

  23. Warren Sealey
    Joke

    Bio-geneticist joke

    What do you get if you cross a mammoth with a octopus?

    Vzzrqvngr fhfcrafvba bs lbhe shaqvat naq n ivfvg sebz gur rguvpf pbzzvggrr.

  24. Steve Knox Silver badge

    Poll Misspelling

    YES, I for one welcome our huge, woolly, tusky chums

    You misspelled overlords.

  25. Graham Marsden
    Boffin

    Could I do it...?

    - Yes.

    Should I do it?

    - Probably not.

    Am I going to do it anyway?

    - Of course!

  26. Martin Budden

    Re: Could I do it...?

    For Science!

  27. 45RPM Silver badge

    Anyone for lunch?

    Look at the evidence. Take a trip into the country. Cows are everywhere. Sheep are everywhere. Pigs are everywhere and horses are everywhere. No-one has ever said ‘as rare as rabbit’ or ‘as scarce as salmon’. And why not? The reason is clear - it’s because we farm, and eat all of these animals. On the other hand, Pandas aren’t exactly common, we’re running short of elephant and rhinos are thin on the ground.

    The solution is obvious. Let’s farm pandas. Let’s farm endangered animals - and, to make it sustainable, lets eat them too - and turn their hide into coats and shoes. Hey presto! No more endangered species. Imagine it - a night out on the sauce and you need a really big breakfast? Hippo bacon, with ostrich eggs and side of giraffe sausages. No more hangover.

    Of course, the other option is to become vegan - and watch all the cows, sheep, horses, pigs chicken and so forth join their megafauna brethren on the critically endangered list. I realise that the burgeoning population of the world means that there might not be enough space for my excellent, and environmentally friendly plan - perhaps someone else could solve this problem though. I’ve had enough of thinking for one day.

    And yes, Mammoth Steak does sound like an excellent idea too.

  28. bjr

    Re: Anyone for lunch?

    They must have been delicious, that's why mammoths went extinct, they were hunted into extinction by pre-farming people. If they had managed to hang on for another 3000 years they might have been OK. The Asian elephant is a domestic animal and they are doing just fine.

    Getting eaten by people is by far the best evolutionary strategy for a species even if it sucks for the individual members of that species. There are probably 51billion lbs of chickens produced in the US alone each year (i.e about 10 billion birds), I'm sure that no wild species is anywhere close. The best strategy for individuals is to become pets. By far the best deal was made by cats, they must have had a really good lawyer. They agreed to sit on our laps occasionally at a time and place of their choosing, we get no say in the matter. In return we agreed to give them a house, as much as they want to eat, and a comprehensive health plan.

  29. Irony Deficient

    Getting eaten by people is by far the best evolutionary strategy for a species

    bjr, it didn’t work so well for the passenger pigeon.

  30. Captain DaFt

    Re: Getting eaten by people is by far the best evolutionary strategy for a species

    "bjr, it didn’t work so well for the passenger pigeon."

    Yes, it seems the animal must also be easily domesticated, or at least have young cute enough to make humans want to domesticate it.

    Look at all the livestock species: Cows, ducks, chickens, pigs, rabbits, etc.

    All tasty, all have young that humans go, "Dawww!"

  31. Anonymous C0ward

    Re: Getting eaten by people is by far the best evolutionary strategy for a species

    Well pandas are cute. The problem with farming them is they don't like f*cking very much.

  32. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Re: Getting eaten by people is by far the best evolutionary strategy for a species

    ...The problem with farming them is they don't like f*cking very much....

    Exactly the problem that farmers and breeders are set up to solve....

  33. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Re: Anyone for lunch?

    ...The solution is obvious. Let’s farm pandas. Let’s farm endangered animals - and, to make it sustainable, lets eat them too ....

    That's already been proposed, for rhinos. There are some very successful rhino farms.

    These are hated by the environmentalists, who are trying to get them closed down. Because every environmentalist knows that the important thing is not the survival of the species, it's the survival of the environmentalists. And environmentalists WANT to have a load of cuddly animals on the verge of extinction - they get lots of grants that way....

  34. Burch

    Re: Anyone for lunch?

    "The Asian elephant is a domestic animal and they are doing just fine"

    Yeah...not really, it's an endangered species.

  35. NotWorkAdmin

    I want to say no...but

    "mankind was not meant to meddle with such things" I can't put my name next to.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: I want to say no...but

    Isn't this a Pratchettism? "We're wizards, meddling with the fabric of space and time is what we do."

    Now I'm over 60, and given the likely timescales, I'm beginning to have a touch of apres moi le déluge". Come on human race, you've more or less fscked yourself with carbon emissions, let's see what you can do in a bit of the small time you have left. It's too late to de-consume your way out of it, if there is a solution it's going to need science. You're going to need to genetically engineer just about all staples - if possible. Sideline the conservatives and go for it, because there isn't going to be a Rapture or a Deus ex machina.

  37. Antonymous Coward
    Childcatcher

    Re: I want to say no...but

    "...you've more or less fscked yourself with carbon emissions..."

    What the hell have you been smoking? BBC?

  38. PassingStrange

    Re: I want to say no...but

    "What the hell have you been smoking? BBC?"

    Probably the best thing to do with the BBC...

  39. SDSmith

    It's not about "what could go wrong"

    We constantly advance science and do so at terrible risk in the areas of drugs, food science, physics and space but little is noticed. We get to genetics and that risk is somehow less tolerable because a few inventive authors have written trendy books that spawned a few movies.

    ALL technical advances are a double edged sword and can be abused if not researched and handled correctly. We can look at our past and see how we had women painting radioactive chemicals onto watches....they died of cancer. Soldiers standing out and watching nuclear tests....not a good idea. Creating heroin and thinking that it would be a cure for morphine addiction. Testing LSD out on people just for grins and Cold War offensive potential. Bad things happen but, on balance, staying ignorant is FAR WORSE.

    Creating a wooly mammoth could be just the right thing to do if it leads to a better understanding of the genome and how to control it. That research and the processes we discover could be similar to the discoveries associated with space travel.

  40. JimC Silver badge

    But *can* we create a wooly mammoth?

    I strongly suspect that you cannot create a proper wooly mammoth without a female mammoth to grow it in, or without the gut flora it gets from its peers and all th rest of it. Then there's learned behaviour from the herd and you can carry on. I suspect all you'd have would be an artificial organism that had a vague resemblance to a mammoth. No matter what the children's pictures of Dawkinsianity might present, there seems to be an awful lot more to inheritance than just the DNA.

  41. PleebSmash

    Re: But *can* we create a wooly mammoth?

    We will eventually create human children without a proper human womb to grow them in.

    As for the learnt behavior, you can try to teach them with robots or sock puppets, or let them start from scratch. Will they have any non-Russian predators?

  42. Chris G Silver badge

    Re: But *can* we create a wooly mammoth?

    Using Mammoth DNA with an Elephant surrogate might be an interesting test of whether or not there may be any inheritied behaviour from a long dead species, otherwise being a Mammoth teacher could make an interesting job for someone;

    'Right! This is how not to run off a cliff when a bloke with a stick and a fur coat and a bunch of his mates are chasing you......

    Also a useful way of turning Tundra into protein.

  43. Fink-Nottle

    > mammoths may have been led to become fatter and hairier than the elephants by a particular gene called TRPV3.

    ... known in the trade as the Demis Roussos gene.

  44. Florida1920 Silver badge
    Headmaster

    A little-known fact

    Stonehenge was built as a playpen for mammoths.

  45. PassingStrange

    Re: A little-known fact

    Stonehenge was built as a playpen for mammoths.

    Quite the opposite. Fortunately, we have an interview from the time to tell us otherwise.

    "Well, what is it anyway? A henge? Well, what's a henge? You may call it megalithic culture, I call it vandalism! I suppose you realise this is about the last nesting place for mammoths in the whole of Wessex?"

    - Michael Flanders, "Built Up Area"

  46. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    What a load of Dodos' eggs...

    ...There are many animals on the edge of extinction that we should be helping instead.”...

    What's so special about animals that are going extinct? In case the scientist in question hasn't read Darwin, let us point out that this is how evolution WORKS. Species develop to fit an niche, then die away as that niche dies. Trying to stop extinction is trying to stop evolution.

    Humans change niches. We are already responsible for several species going extinct, but also many new species developing, as we make new environments in which they can live, or breed them for a specific purpose. So questions about mammoths are moot - we have already done everything which has been proposed. Just not with animals that size... yet...

  47. JimC Silver badge

    Re: What a load of Dodos' eggs...

    > What's so special about animals that are going extinct?

    Well, normally one would hope that new species would be appearing at roughly the same rate as old ones are going extinct. If Smith's yellow beaked gull goes extinct and its ecological niche is picked up by Jones' orange beaked gull that's a wonder of nature. But if all the gulls go extinct and are replaced by life free polluted wastelands the world has become a more boring place.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mammoth task?

    Or am I just a dumbo?

  49. swampdog
    WTF?

    In the spirit of http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/07/03/lemur_impressive_plums/

    I volunteer Pc ??? and PC !!! decades ago for knocking on my door 30 minutes after the road tax on a car I'd sold earlier that evening, ran out.

    I could have done with that mammoth/lemur visualisation back then.

  50. Mycho Silver badge

    Do we have to bring them right the way back?

    What about using some cloned cells to make synthetic mammoth burgers? I'd pay over the odds for something like that.

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