Campus Reform | Harvard profs fight climate change by bringing wooly mammoth back from extinction

Harvard profs fight climate change by bringing wooly mammoth back from extinction

A group of Harvard University professors is trying to bring back the woolly mammoth to fight climate change.

Led by Harvard Medical School professor George Church, the project will splice mammoth genes into Asian elephant cells, creating an “elephant cousin” that can eventually repopulate the Arctic.

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A group of Harvard University professors and affiliates is working to bring back the long-extinct woolly mammoth in order to fight climate change.

The project, led by Harvard Medical School genetics professor George Church under the conservation organization Revive & Restore, will splice mammoth genes into Asian elephant cells, creating an “elephant cousin” that can eventually repopulate the Arctic. 

According to the project description, the ultimate goal is to "bring back the species so that healthy herds may one-day re-populate vast tracts of tundra and boreal forest in Eurasia and North America.” According to National Geographic, the wooly mammoth has been extinct for more than 4,000 years.

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According to the project description, large grazers in arctic regions, like the wooly mammoth, pack dirt into the ground, creating a deeper permafrost during the winter months. Grasses — which overtake other tundra flora favored by the mammoths — insulate the permafrost in summer, preventing greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently, the team has successfully used CRISPR genome engineering to “copy-and-paste DNA from the mammoth genome into living elephant cell cultures.” They have managed to create mutations for mammoth hemoglobin, extra hair growth, fat production, and other “nuanced climate adaptations.” 

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Church — who helped to initiate the Human Genome Project in 1984 — is joined by Harvard researchers Bobby Dhadwar, Luhan Yang, and Eriona Hysolli.

Church told Campus Reform that the group has not requested federal funding. 

The mammoth “will probably not be considered a new species — just a cold-resistant elephant.” The creature “will probably get USDA and EPA scrutiny in a manner similar to approved genetically engineered crops and salmon.” 

Canadian and Russian environmental agencies may need to approve the introduction of the species as well.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft