A group of Russian and South Korean researchers has begun their attempt to clone a woolly mammoth, starting by extracting DNA from a spectacularly well-preserved specimen discovered in the Siberian permafrost in 2013. The project is led by Hwang Woo-Suk, a Korean cloning scientist who was the focus of a scandal in 2006 involving fraudulent research on human stem cells. Hwang has had success with animals, however, reportedly creating the world's first cloned dog and several cloned coyotes.
The research team, from the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation and Russia's North-Eastern Federal University, began this week to extract DNA from the leg of the long-frozen animal. The news was reported by the university and the Siberian Times.
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"We take samples of bone marrow —it is one of the best materials for DNA analysis," explained Semyon Grigoriev, director of the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk, where scientists gathered this week to examine the remains. "If the samples are good then our coordinated work, I think, will allow in a year or two to decipher the world's first nuclear genome of the mammoth," he continued.
If no complete cells can be found to resuscitate, mapping the genome is a critical step in the process of cloning the long-extinct animal by creating an artificial cell nucleus. It is, however, nowhere near the end of potential difficulties for the ambitious program — the reconstructed DNA would have to be successfully transplanted in a living elephant embryo and carried to term.