No matter how many times filmmakers try to warn us, scientists persist in their attempts to bring back giant uncontrollable monsters to stampede us all to death.
The Guardian reports that though woolly mammoths have been extinct for 4,000 years, scientists are close to a breakthrough that will bring back enormous sentient creatures with giant skewering tusks. Professor George Church spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston this week, telling an audience of people who should be trying to stop this insanity that his Harvard team is about two years away from completing its “de-extinction” effort:
“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo,” said Prof George Church. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We’re not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.”
The creature, sometimes referred to as a “mammophant”, would be partly elephant, but with features such as small ears, subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood. The mammoth genes for these traits are spliced into the elephant DNA using the powerful gene-editing tool, Crispr.
Crispr sounds like Tinder for toast, but it’s actually the new program you should pick up if you’re trying to create innovative nightmares to unleash upon the earth. Sort of like organic matter Photoshop.
Church alleges that the new mammophant would serve two useful purposes. The first is that they’d potentially save the Asian elephant from extinction with an “alternative future,” which sounds very ominous. The other is to combat global warming. In Church’s estimation, releasing herds of mammophants on the tundra would prevent permafrost from melting and releasing greenhouse gas:
“They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in,” said Church. “In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.”
Obviously, that’s not an immediate solution for climate change. Even if this hybrid embryo is ready within the two year time frame, there is debate about implanting it in the womb of an Asian elephant (the woolly mammoth’s closest relative), so an artificial womb would have to be created. They’re at least a decade from that kind of achievement. Considering the state of the earth, it seems unlikely that we have time for the mammophant program to take off.
It’d be cool if scientists were just like, “I want to make weird shit in my lab and have no justification for why,” but that’s what gets them called mad. Indeed, there is little justification for bringing this new species into being, especially when you consider the moral implications of what its life would be like. Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, told the Guardian that if born via ex-vivo as planned, the babe would be “deprived of all the pre-birth interactions with its mother” and that “the mammoth was not simply a set of genes, it was a social animal, as is the modern Asian elephant. What will happen when the elephant-mammoth hybrid is born? How will it be greeted by elephants?”
Haven’t elephants and their descendants suffered enough?