Last month, the National Geographic Society played host to a first-of-its-kind event: TedxDeExtinction, a public forum on the groundbreaking science surrounding efforts to bring extinct species back to life, and the ethical and conservation issues that may arise. This Friday, the National Geographic Channel will explore this very topic in Mammoth: Back From The Dead. This one-hour special follows a team of international scientists as they race to revive a long-extinct species in one of the most expensive, ambitious and audacious scientific undertakings ever.
Ten thousand years ago, humans shared the planet with mammoths, giant creatures that roamed the Northern Hemisphere through Asia, Europe and North America. In the heart of Siberia, they numbered in the hundreds of thousands before becoming extinct for reasons that are still unknown. Today, scientists believe that they have the tools to bring one of these incredible creatures back to life. Mammoth: Back From the Dead will take viewers along as the expedition team abseils down ice cliffs, searches unstable caves and goes to work trying to harvest DNA as they strive to clone a living, breathing mammoth. Working with the Russian government, they’ve been given unprecedented access to conduct their search for deep-frozen tissue in some of the biggest mammoth graveyards on the planet. But with only three weeks to conduct their search, the race is on.
Insung Hwang, project leader from South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, admits, “I think cloning a mammoth is a crazy idea in a way that is ridiculously ambitious. But we believe that in the future, cloning can really become an instrumental tool in saving endangered animals.”
Even if their search for tissue is successful, the hurdles are far from over. The team will have to painstakingly defrost their samples; find an elephant to provide a donor egg and another to act as the surrogate mother to carry the embryo; and, most important, locate viable DNA from an intact nucleus that can be used to start the cloning process.
“If Insung gets this to work, it’s one of the biggest scientific achievements in this century,” says Dr. Love Dalen, a mammoth expert. “We would have brought back an extinct species to life.”
Mammoth: Back From The Dead Premieres Friday, April 12, at 8p.