If something made clear the iconic saga of adventure and science fiction Jurassic park is that when humans play with biotechnology, things go very wrong. The rampant dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s classic could be out of fiction before long, as there are action plans to revive prehistoric creatures. The most recent news about these processes has as its protagonist Argentine biotechnologist Ramiro Perrota, who won a scholarship to Harvard University to work with a group of geneticists seeking to create a hybrid between the current elephant and the Ice Age mammoth.
Perrota is a Conicet doctoral fellow and won a scholarship to go to study and work in extinction at Harvard University. “It is a long-term project, with the technology that exists today, in five or ten years we will be able to have this animal roaming around here again,” he said. However, the scientist explained that this has nothing to do with Jurassic Park. It is that the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago and it is believed that in more than 6.5 million years there are no DNA remains, due to the degradation it undergoes, even if that DNA is kept at the optimum temperature, of approximately -5 degrees.
What they want to do now is a hybrid of an elephant and a mammoth, using the encoded genetic information that was found in the fossil remains of mammoths, in Siberia, frozen in permafrost. The DNA was degraded, however there are pieces that can be read and what was done was to reconstruct the genome of this extinct species and compared it with the genome of the elephant, which turned out to be very similar. The closest relative of the mammoth today is the Asian elephants which have a 99.6% similarity of the genome.
Reviving mammoths to mitigate the effects of climate change
To modify DNA today there is genetic engineering for gene editing. In fact, last year the Nobel Prize in chemistry went to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, discoverers of the CRISPR gene editing tool. Using this tool, the information contained in the mammoth genome can be transferred to the elephant cells and the hybrid can be generated.
Perrota said that there are two main objectives. The first is to mitigate the effects of climate change and the emission of greenhouse gases and the second is the conservation of endangered species, such as the Asian elephant and the African elephant. But how can mammoths help with the weather? The biotechnologist explained that during the winters, in the permafrost, in the area of Siberia, northern Russia, layers of snow are deposited that act in an insulating way on the earth. In the earth there is organic matter, trapped for millions of years, that when the temperature rises, that layer that is acting in an insulating way causes the temperature of the soil to rise and begin to decompose generating greenhouse gases.
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Jurassic Park becomes reality: an Argentine joins the team of paleontologists who will revive a mammoth