Ancient mammoth blood gives new life to de-extinction project

Ever fancied your own Mr Snuffleupagus? The dream may not be that far away.

Russian scientists claim to have discovered liquid woolly mammoth blood in a frozen carcase in Siberia, which would make cloning a real possibility. An expedition earlier this month, led by scientist Semyon Grigoryev, uncovered the remains of a 60-year-old female mammoth on a remote island in the Arctic Ocean. "This find gives us a really good chance of finding live cells which can help us implement [our] project to clone a mammoth," Grigoryev said. However, many scientists are sceptical. Dolly, the famous cloned sheep, was born after 277 attempts.

The discovery has reignited debate over the ethics of cloning. At a conference at Stanford Law School last week, experts debated the ethical, legal and political implications of “de-extinction”.

Beth Shapiro, of the University of California at Santa Cruz, expressed concerns about the difficulty of cloning and the inevitable creation of countless deformed and terminal-ill animals. “I think we should consider deeply why we want to de-extinct things" she said. Kate Jones of University College London said that “Conservation biologists worry that if people think we can revive species they won’t care about protecting what’s left".

The scientific community also questions the involvement of disgraced South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk. Hwang's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation is one of two institutes working with the blood samples. In 2005 Hwang made international news when he faked landmark discoveries in human embryo cloning research. He was subsequently charged with fraud and embezzlement. 

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