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5-Animals: Scientists hope to clone mamooth

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TITLE:  Mammoth effort to clone ice-age beast
SOURCE: The New Zealand Herald, by Charles Arthur
DATE:   Jul 17, 2003

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Mammoth effort to clone ice-age beast

Scientists hoping to clone prehistoric woolly mammoths are preparing
their first frozen DNA samples in a bid to revive the species.

The specimens of bone marrow, muscle and skin were unearthed last year in
the Siberian tundra where they had been preserved in ice for thousands of

Researchers at the Gifu Science and Technology Centre and Kinki
University want to use the genetic material in the cells to clone a
woolly mammoth, said Dr Akira Irytani, a scientist at Kinki University in
western Japan.

First they must check whether the five specimens airlifted from Russia
are really from mammoths, then decide whether the DNA locked inside is
preserved well enough to self-replicate. After that, it could take
several years to produce an animal. "There are many different problems to
overcome," said the Gifu Centre's Hideyoshi Ichibashi. "I think we can
move ahead only one step at a time."

The idea of cloning mammoths holds a fascination for scientists since the
cloning of adult mammals was shown to be feasible with Dolly the sheep in

But in 1999 Alexei Tikhonov, the chairman of the mammoth committee of the
Russian Academy of Science who took part in an expedition that uncovered
one of the buried animals, said he and his academy colleagues were not
preparing to clone the mammal.

"You have to have a living cell for cloning, and not a single cell can
survive in the permafrost," he said then.

Irytani said the idea was to develop the cloning technology on extinct
animals to aid in the preservation of endangered species.

Six animals thought to be mammoths have been partially or completely
unearthed from permafrost, which is as hard as concrete and has to be
broken up with jackhammers.

Kinki University scientists and veterinary experts from Japan's Kagoshima
University have searched for mammoth DNA samples since 1997 in Siberia.
The techniques used include ground-penetrating radar, which can detect
the size and shape of buried objects.

So far, no cells bearing cloning-quality DNA have been found.

The initial plan was to find mammoth sperm cells, which could be used to
inseminate an elephant to create a mammoth-elephant hybrid. But no sperm
cells have been found, and other samples retrieved have been rendered
unusable by time and climate changes.

Irytani was more hopeful about their samples, estimated to be 20,000
years old, saying they had been well preserved at a temperature of about -20C.


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