Will Resurrecting a Mammoth Be Possible? – Korea Real Time – WSJ

By Jaeyeon Woo

European Pressphoto Agency
Can South Korean scientists bring a mammoth back to life?

It turns out that cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk really meant it when he said last October that his next project would be to bring a mammoth back to life.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hwang’s Sooam Bioengineering Research Institute signed an agreement with Russia’s North-Eastern Federal University to clone a mammoth, the giant elephant that went extinct several thousand years ago.

Dr. Hwang, once hailed as national hero for his work on stem cells and cloning, fell from grace in 2005 after it was revealed that he fabricated what was then believed to be a major breakthrough in human embryonic stem cell research. He was virtually disbarred from the industry, with his license canceled. But he continued doing his experiments in animal cloning. Last October, he announced the successful cloning of a coyote.

On Monday, nine Korean and Russian scientists got together in Seoul to discuss their joint research in details including how to retrieve DNA samples from a mammoth.

According to the Sooam Institute, bioengineering scientists since 2002 have discovered what they believe to be the remains of a mammoth in the permafrost of Russia. Last August, it was reported that a thigh bone of a mammoth was discovered in Siberia.

Their plan is to replace the nuclei of an elephant cell with one from a mammoth to produce an embryo with mammoth DNA. Then they are going to plant the embryo into the womb of a surrogate elephant. The institute said it would take 22 months before delivery.

Though the project sounds possible only in a “Jurassic Park”-like story, bioscientists around the world, Japanese and Russian in particular, have been working hard since early 2000 to make this dream into reality.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk shakes hands with Vasily Vasiliev, vice director of North-Eastern Federal University of Russia’s Sakha Republic, after signing an agreement on joint research at Hwang’s office in Seoul on Thuesday.

Sooam’s Director Hyun Sang-hwan told the Journal that Dr. Hwang’s team has toyed with the idea since late 1990s and that their know-how and expertise in the cloning field would, hopefully, put the Korean team at an advantage.

“The pressing issue at the moment is whether we could secure a well-reserved mammoth’s tissue,” he said. “This is only the first step in this grand project so we’ll see how it turns out.”


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