"Until now, the team have stopped at the cell stage, but are now moving towards creating embryos - although, they said that it would be many years before any serious attempt at producing a living creature". Prof George Church, who heads up the project, claims that the "mammophant" would essentially be an Asian elephant with some mammoth traits, including "small ears, subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood". "Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits".
Woolly mammoths may roam the earth once again, and it could happen within the next two years (so it's a race between that and a Trump impeachment). According to some, growing a hybrid animal inside an artificial womb is impossible within the decade, but Church's laboratory is reportedly able to incubate a mouse embryo for 10 days or around 50 percent of its gestation period.
"We're working on ways to evaluate the impact of all these edits and basically trying to establish embryogenesis in the lab", said Church.
The discovery of a well-preserved woolly mammoth specimen back in 2014 raised the possibility of creating a clone of the long extinct behemoth, a prospect beleaguered by ethical concerns. Geneticists worldwide have undertaken projects to resurrect mammoths through cloning or hybridization with elephants.
The mammoth is more closely related to the Asian elephant than it is the African elephant.
Mammoths could keep the region colder by: (a) eating dead grass, thus enabling the sun to reach spring grass, whose deep roots prevent erosion; (b) increasing reflected light by felling trees, which absorb sunlight; and (c) punching through insulating snow so that freezing air penetrates the soil.
"When you simulate this with a real ecosystem in Siberia", he says, "the temperature drop is 20 degrees, which is really big deal in terms of delaying the release of carbon by melting". Obtained from a defense-system bacteria used for fending off viruses, the system allows "cutting and pasting" DNA strands with never-before-seen precision. The Harvard team, however, has found a workaround by collecting skin cells from Asian elephants and reprogramming them into stem cells.
The academic added: "We hope to do the entire procedure ex-vivo (outside a living body)". It would be unreasonable to put female reproduction at risk in an endangered species. There are experiments in the literature from the 1980s but there hasn't been much interest for a while.