The last time that woolly mammoths walked this earth was more than 10,000 years ago, with the exception of some small pockets of inbred freaks plagued by genetic defects. But if a group of probably mad scientists has its way, woolly mammoths – or some creature that resembles them – could come back in six years’ time.
The scientists, led by Harvard University genetics professor George Church and his company Colossal, have received $15 million in funding so that they can attempt to use the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to splice frozen mammoth DNA into the genes of an Asian elephant, which shares a common ancestor with woolly mammoths. Whatever embryos that result would be elephants with mammoth-like hair, cold-withstanding fat, and behavior — in other words, a “mammophant,” per NPR.
Lest you think this is a big waste of $15 million, Church’s team suggests that the mammoth hybrids could help fix climate change by wandering the warming tundra, breaking up moss and trees, and turning it back into a grassland, which maintains a colder ground temperature and is better for locking in greenhouse gases.
But, in the words of a certain fictional mathematician and chaos theorist, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” (This is also an apt reference because Jurassic Park more or less had this exact premise, only with dinosaurs. We all know how that turned out.)
What would the world look like with a bunch of mammophants lumbering around? Maybe they could repopulate the tundra and help address the climate crisis. Maybe they would unleash chaos into ecosystems that have lacked mammoths for thousands of years. Maybe they would be very cute. Maybe they would let people ride them. Maybe they would be absolute monsters. Maybe they would usher in a golden age of species de-extinction. Maybe they would all fall over dead as soon as they emerge from whatever artificial womb the scientists have stuck them in.
In conclusion, who really knows what will happen? For the next six years, that’s between the dead mammoths, God, and CRISPR.