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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Hoff

Bringing back mammoths

A new startup venture co-founded by gene editing pioneer George Church aims to bring woolly mammoths back to the Arctic.

This is not a frivolous “Jurassic Park” scenario, but a genuine attempt to combat climate change in one of Earth’s most vulnerable and important habitats: the Arctic tundra.

Even though the Arctic is sparsely populated, it is one of the most important regions on Earth for maintaining a livable planet. That is because its frozen ground holds a vast amount of carbon. As recent record-breaking summer temperatures have begun to thaw the permafrost, we are in danger of releasing greenhouse gases that will further warm the atmosphere in a cascade of heating up an already warming Earth.

In my book Project Hannibal, my fictional characters resurrected mammoths from extinction by using recovered mammoth DNA to create elephant hybrids with mammoth-like adaptations to survive the Arctic’s brutal winter cold. Church’s lab is doing this for real, in hopes of releasing them into the wild.

Their goal is to preserve the tundra by doing what elephants do best: trampling shrubs and uprooting trees. Maintaining swaths of grassland is crucial to reflecting sunlight back into space during the Arctic’s long summer days, rather than allowing the heat to seep into the ground to thaw the permafrost.

The goal of reviving mammoths is ambitious, to be sure, and will take many years to implement. In the meantime, it’s critically important that humans make every effort now to preserve the Arctic wilderness: our lives may depend upon it.

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