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actual mammoths bunnies off topic

We de-extincted the Mammoth–again?

Good to be back

I read the news today, oh boy:

Ten thousand years after woolly mammoths vanished from the face of the Earth, scientists are embarking on an ambitious project to bring the beasts back to the Arctic tundra.

Did you say MAMMOTHS? Like the ones in the very name of this site? Tell me more, The Guardian.

The prospect of recreating mammoths and returning them to the wild has been discussed – seriously at times – for more than a decade, but on Monday researchers announced fresh funding they believe could make their dream a reality.

The boost comes in the form of $15m (£11m) raised by the bioscience and genetics company Colossal, co-founded by Ben Lamm, a tech and software entrepreneur, and George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who has pioneered new approaches to gene editing.

If this all seems a bit familiar, it’s because Church was talking about this exact same project back in 2017, and of course I wrote about it then. The difference is that they now have $15 million to finance Church’s weird science.

As Church explained back in 2017, he isn’t planning on bringing back the same mammoth that our ancestors hunted so many years ago. Instead, he’s going to work a bit of elephant into the mix.

The scientists have set their initial sights on creating an elephant-mammoth hybrid by making embryos in the laboratory that carry mammoth DNA.

Is this starting to sound a little Island of Dr. Moreau to you?

I mean, while you’re at it why not give them two trunks? Or opposable thumbs? Or forget the whole mammoth thing and bring back an assortment of dinosaurs and put them in a theme park? Nothing could go wrong with that plan.

But they aren’t talking theme parks just yet.

“Our goal is to make a cold-resistant elephant, but it is going to look and behave like a mammoth. Not because we are trying to trick anybody, but because we want something that is functionally equivalent to the mammoth, that will enjoy its time at -40C, and do all the things that elephants and mammoths do, in particular knocking down trees,” Church told the Guardian.

Why do you want to knock down trees that badly, dude? There are easier ways to do that, you know.

The project is framed as an effort to help conserve Asian elephants by equipping them with traits that allow them to thrive in vast stretches of the Arctic known as the mammoth steppe. But the scientists also believe introducing herds of elephant-mammoth hybrids to the Arctic tundra may help restore the degraded habitat and combat some of the impacts of the climate crisis. For example, by knocking down trees, the beasts might help to restore the former Arctic grasslands.

Huh. I thought trees were good, environmentally speaking. Apparently the grasslands would help to cool the area.

So maybe they could do the environment some good, at least in theory. The trouble is, once you release these hypothetical mammoth-elephant hybrids into the wild, you don’t have control over what they do.

I mean, just to raise one possible issue: since mammoth-elephant hybrids don’t live anywhere on earth right now, wherever the scientists decide to put them they’ll be an invasive species. What if they wander out of the arctic and start taking over every chilly spot on planet earth? What if they accidentally sit on some polar bears?

Frankly, the ecological justification seems a bit tacked on, less a reason for the research than an excuse cooked up by scientists who are jonesing to create a little mammoth of their own.

It turns out I’m not the only skeptic. Some people who actually know what they’re talking about think it’s a bad idea too.

“My personal thinking is that the justifications given – the idea that you could geoengineer the Arctic environment using a heard of mammoths – isn’t plausible,” said Dr Victoria Herridge, an evolutionary biologist at the Natural History Museum.

She’s not the only scientist raising objections.

Gareth Phoenix, a professor of plant and global change ecology at the University of Sheffield, said: “While we do need a multitude of different approaches to stop climate change, we also need to initiate solutions responsibly to avoid unintended damaging consequences.”

That’s what I said!

Just keep in mind what happened when some mad scientists created a race of supersized murder-bunnies.

You’ve been warned!

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Anonymous
Anonymous
3 days ago

While I can’t deny that reintroducing megafauna could help restore many ecosystems to a pre-human state, the fact remains that we can’t just undo what we’ve already done. He should focus on preserving the ecosystems that already exist instead of trying to create new ones for the sake of vanity alone. He doesn’t even know for sure that they’ll even be able to breed, let alone survive in the wild unassisted.

Pseudonym
Pseudonym
3 days ago

You know what species wasn’t able to survive the end of the last ice age due to warming temperatures? The woolley mammoth. I’m very skeptical that scientists will be able to come up with a fat hairy elephant that can do better than evolution. At least they’re not very likely to become an uncontrollable invasive species though, any more than any other megafauna, elephants included, could absent legal protection from humans.

Also note that this effort is being funded by Peter “repeal the 19th Amendment” Thiel.

Last edited 3 days ago by Pseudonym
Alan Robertshaw
3 days ago

The project is framed as an effort to help conserve Asian elephants by equipping them with traits that allow them to thrive in vast stretches of the Arctic 

But the whole point of conservation cloning is to protect existing ecosystems by restoring a species essential to that ecosystem’s viability.

I’m not sure that you can call something that isn’t really an elephant, and doesn’t live in Asia, an Asian elephant. As people have already mentioned, this is just engineering a novel invasive species.

And whilst I think it’s a worthy goal, there are more practical ways of conserving Asian elephants.

https://www.ifaw.org/international/press-releases/conservation-win-asian-elephants-protections

But even if they can overcome the practical hurdles, they may encounter legal ones.

https://www.euronews.com/green/2021/03/18/how-can-cloning-help-conservationists-save-extinct-species

GSS ex-noob
GSS ex-noob
3 days ago

ISTM that $15M would pay a lot of Siberian humans to knock down trees, and also breed a bunch more Asian elephants, but then I’m not a techbro with a hard-on for “duuuude, mammoths!” and more money than sense.

Alan Robertshaw
3 days ago

It has been pointed out to me that Siberia is in fact in Asia. I don’t think that affects the point though. In fact, I’d say it was irrelephant.

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CanuckAmuck
CanuckAmuck
3 days ago

@Anonymous
“While I can’t deny that reintroducing megafauna could help restore many ecosystems to a pre-human state”

I can certainly deny that. The damage was done and nature, as always, has done her level best to re-filled the niches with what was available. Any reintroduction of a long-extinct species of megafauna would be no different than introducing any other invasive species and lead to all the imbalance that always causes.

If this fellow manages to make a hybrid, there will be no majestic herds from ages past. At most it will be a curiosity, with small numbers bred mainly for research purposes.

Last edited 3 days ago by CanuckAmuck
Lurker666
Lurker666
3 days ago

The “save the climate” angle isn’t BS. Melting Siberia’s permafrost is adding to global warming. There is some proof supporting Sergey Zimov’s “Pleistocene Park” concept. Cutting down trees to restore arctic tundra-grassland-climate did restore permafrost. Animals could do this better than humans. But I wish Russia would hire humans to do some of that needed environment change.

Talonknife
Talonknife
3 days ago

I feel like there’s a whole series of very popular movies that explain why this exact specific thing is a bad idea.

Kat, ambassador, feminist revolution (in exile)
Kat, ambassador, feminist revolution (in exile)
3 days ago

[T]he scientists also believe introducing herds of elephant-mammoth hybrids to the Arctic tundra may help restore the degraded habitat and combat some of the impacts of the climate crisis. For example, by knocking down trees, the beasts might help to restore the former Arctic grasslands.

Frankly, the ecological justification seems a bit tacked on, less a reason for the research than an excuse cooked up by scientists who are jonesing to create a little mammoth of their own.

David F. strikes me as one of those smarty-pants naysayers who called George W. Bush a liar for saying we invaded Afghanistan to attain rights for women.

Alan Robertshaw
3 days ago

They’re losing the permafrost in Alaska too. That’s causing problems for the oil companies. The ground ends up not being stable enough to support their infrastructure.

So now they build everything on really deep piles that contain heat pumps to refrigerate the ground and keep it frozen solid.

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Dormousing_it
Dormousing_it
3 days ago

No, no, no. I can’t believe these people’s arrogance. History is filled with stories of introduced species wreaking havoc. And, this is much more than merely introducing an existing species to an ecosystem.

Trying
Trying
3 days ago

Thousands of homeless vets and we’re spending money on this.

Mammoths were really cool and I love them, but come on.

Last edited 3 days ago by Trying
Alan Robertshaw
3 days ago

The irony is it wasn’t that long ago that there were plans to use orbital mirrors to light up cities in Siberia. That would of course also increase the amount of solar radiation reaching the ground and heating up the permafrost. The project is currently on the back burner; although that seems to be more about funding issues.

https://www.spacelegalissues.com/space-law-znamya-the-space-mirror/

Dormousing_it
Dormousing_it
3 days ago

@Trying: This isn’t related to attempting to resurrect mammoths (LOL), but I read an article in the LA times about a new fad among the very rich: Giant crystals. We’re talking 1,000 lb crystals. Some people have even carved them into thrones! Truck it onto your yacht, to impress other very rich people.

I’m not a geologist, so I can only imagine how long it must take for these giant crystals to form. I suppose I could look it up. Hundreds or even thousands of years?

Truly an indication that these people need to be taxed much more heavily than they are. It reminds me of a joke Robin Williams made: Something about cocaine addiction being a sign that you have too much money.

Simon
Simon
3 days ago

Off topic but good news, vile site hosts Epik have been seriously hacked. Lots of awful people about to get some consequences.

Alan Robertshaw
3 days ago

@ dormousing_it

You got me intrigued so I did some googling. I put in ‘giant crystals’ and one of the suggestions was ‘rich people’; so that helped.

I’ll have to think about the ethical implications. I mean, lots of people do collect and display geodes. So this is just an extension of that I guess. Albeit one worth $1 billion a year apparently.

But in good news, the popularity of crystals does mean the ladies pants not having pockets issue has finally been addressed!

https://www.elle.com/fashion/celebrity-style/a22064428/victoria-beckham-crystals-guide-pre-fall-collection/

.45
.45
3 days ago

How many rich people would pay through the nose to eat or hunt a woolly mammoth?

Other than zoos for obvious reasons, I would expect the above to be the logical results. Specialty restaurants, hunting expeditions, etc.

Dormousing_it
Dormousing_it
3 days ago

@Alan Robertshaw: I object to it on an almost visceral level. These giant crystals are natural phenomena that take aeons to form, and here these modern day robber barons are displaying them in their homes/yachts, where only other rich people will get to see them. It’d be one thing if the crystals were in the Museum of Natural History, where the public could view them.

I guess you’re right, though. It IS just an extension of collecting geodes, or gems, for that matter. I own gemstones; what’s the saying, ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!’. All too appropriate here, LOL

Ten Bears
3 days ago

There are no trees on the tundra worthy of a mammoth knocking over, not to mention the tundra is thawing (see viri, unknown) AND may be mankind’s last stand, no room for rampaging pachyderms. File this one under “yeah, maybe that’s a really dumb waste of money.”

Battering Lamb
Battering Lamb
2 days ago

“Hey, Global Warming is bad right?”
“Yeah.”
“You know what disappeared with the Ice Age?”
“Uh…”
“Mammoths”
“You son of a gun, that’s just crazy enough to work. To the clone-machine!”

It feels like this project has about as much thought put into it as that Cryptocurrency Freestate on a Boat project a few years back.

Redsilkphoenix: Jetpack Vixen, Intergalactic Meani
Redsilkphoenix: Jetpack Vixen, Intergalactic Meani
2 days ago

@ dormousing_it,

Speaking of ginormous crystals, this place sounds like it’d be a beautiful place to visit. Assuming someone solved the puzzle of how to survive down there long enough to soak in their beauty without broiling to death.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_of_the_Crystals

Alan Robertshaw
2 days ago

@ dormousing_it

I used to collect meteorites; and it was a similar thing. Personally owning an intact one versus access to the public and scientific research. The way I looked at it though, the ‘whole’ ones I obtained were either bog standard iron or chondrites. Unlikely to add anything to the corpus of knowledge. So hardly worth slicing open. Well, apart from that one that glowed green and had the weird bugs crawling over it. I did have some martian and lunar bits though; and that was weird holding part of another planet in your hand. Those were just tiny splinters though, left over from experiments.

I do also like geodes though. You ever seen that film The Core? That has a big geode in it.

Victorious Parasol
Victorious Parasol
2 days ago

When it comes to introducing species to a new area, I keep hearing Tim Finn singing “Cane Toad Blues.”

Alan Robertshaw
2 days ago

Surplus to Requirements
Surplus to Requirements
2 days ago

Ah, The Core. 2003’s #1 comedy and in the all-time top 10, as judged by physicists the world over.

Alan Robertshaw
2 days ago

@ dormousing_it

I don’t know whether it’s internet algorithms ’cause we were talking about it, or just that I get posts from here anyway; but in any event; here’s some pretty big geodes for you!

https://mymodernmet.com/large-amethyst-geodes/

Dormousing_it
Dormousing_it
2 days ago

@Redsilkphoenix: That cave is beautiful. I skimmed the article; the cave is filled with water now, if I read it correctly. I wonder how many caves similar to this exist.

@Alan Robertshaw: Those geodes are spectacular. My father had a few run of the mill amethyst geodes; I don’t know what happened to them after he died.

How did you go about collecting meteorites? If you don’t mind me asking. Having a connection at a scientific research facility is how imagine an ordinary person would collect them. How can you be certain they’re meteorites?

Alan Robertshaw
2 days ago

@ dormousing_it

How did you go about collecting meteorites? If you don’t mind me asking. 

Not at all; if there’s one thing you should know about me by now it’s I always love an invite to ramble.

I actually bought some from a market stall in the old Spitalfields Market; before it became an art gallery. A lot of chondrites are so called “NWAs”. That’s north west Africa. People just collect them in the desert (just rooting in cairns will often produce a few) and they end up finding their way to market. They don’t have certificates; but there are certain ways of recognising them. Not least taste (they taste a bit metallic, even the stone ones). But there are also patterns on the surface that are pretty easily recognisable.

For the Mars/Lunar ones I got them from a bloke who sells space stuff. Not just rocks; but also bits of re-entried satellites and similar. An original Sputnik once came up. it hadn’t been into space though so I’m not sure it was worth the $13K they were asking.

And I just keep an ear out for stuff. I managed to get an unissued booklet from Barringer Crater; that had a bit of the meteorite attached. They’d just turned up in a box when they were doing a bit of spring cleaning.

You can pick up chunks of the Hoba meteorite cheap enough that people just make jewellery out of them. It is funny though, fragments sell by weight. So you’ll be having conversations about “I can sell for $10 a gram” and everyone in the pub looks at you suspiciously.

Alan Robertshaw
2 days ago

If you want to get into the meteorite jewellery business (and a quick google shows a lot of people have!) here’s a primer.

https://www.gemsociety.org/article/meteorite-jewelry-introduction/

Much as I like intact meteorites, the metal ones do look amazing in cross section. The nickel and iron forms a particular lattice structure that you can only get in zero gravity; so it’s very pretty.

(I quite like this watch)

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You can pick up stuff like rings and earrings though in the $20 to $50 range.

I like the ‘natural’ ones

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But as seen, they do polish up nicely.

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Last edited 2 days ago by Alan Robertshaw
Sheila Crosby
Sheila Crosby
1 day ago

Considering what Peter Thiel frequently spends his money on, I don’t mind him being scammed. I don’t think there will be any actual mammoths or even semi-mammoths produced, but I’ve been wrong about plenty of things.

Extinguisher
Extinguisher
1 day ago

This angers me. We should strive to make more species extinct, not bring new ones to the world. The sooner life goes away, the sooner the universe will be at peace.

Lumipuna
Lumipuna
1 day ago

It just occurred to me that “looks like a mammoth” is a pretty low bar since most modern people have little idea what anatomical features distinguished mammoths from modern (Indian) elephant other than thick fur.

Besides, several mammoth species lived in tropical and temperate areas, together with various elephant and mastodon species, and were probably largely hairless. Woolly mammoth (which people usually mean when they say mammoth) was probably the most cold-adapted proboscidean that ever lived, and the only extinct species with well preserved remains.

Alan Robertshaw
1 day ago

@ lumipuna

proboscidean

Ooh, I learned two new words today.

Lumipuna
Lumipuna
1 day ago

In mammalian taxonomy, Proboscidea is the order that includes the two current elephant species and their extinct relatives. They were quite variable over some 50 million years, though all seem to have been large to gigantic herbivores with some kind of trunk and often prominent tusks.

Alan Robertshaw
19 hours ago

@ lumipuna

Cheers for the info. Ancient heffalumps seem to be in vogue today. This just came out.

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/fossil-tracks-footprints-ancient-elephant-nursery