Scientists sign on to re-create woolly mammoth--just for fun

Russian-South Korean project includes participation of disgraced stem cell researcher who faked his results.

Scientists from South Korea and Russia have signed onto a project that sounds like it got lifted off the pages of "Jurassic Park" to bring a woolly mammoth back to life.

Woolly Mammoth
This undated handout provided by ExhibitEase LLC shows a 3D computer-generated Image of woolly mammoth emerging from ice block. Mammoth Genome Project, Steven W. Marcus

Even more controversial than the storyline is the participation of a disgraced cloning expert from South Korea in the project. Hwang Woo-Suk, now with South Korea's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, was found to have falsified data claiming a stem cell research breakthrough and then forced to resign his post at Seoul National University in 2009.

In 2005, Suk reported in a paper published in the journal Science that his team had come up with a procedure to clone individual stem cell colonies from 11 patients. That built upon a 2004 article which he published. A subsequent investigation by the university found the papers to have been fabrications. Separately, he was later convicted of embezzlement

Still, Suk continues to enjoy notoriety in his native country as the first scientist to clone a dog. Whether he can apply that expertise to reproduce a now-extinct animal may hinge on a variable entirely out of his hands. This isn't the first time scientists have set their sights on cloning a mammoth. Scientists in Russia researching the project have had their progress blocked by not having nuclei with undamaged mammoth genes. That changed last August when paleontologists reported discovering a well-preserved mammoth's thigh bone in Siberia, raising the chances for a successful cloning procedure.

"The first and hardest mission is to restore mammoth cells," another Sooam researcher, Hwang In-Sung, told AFP.

Assuming that the researchers can find nuclei with undamaged genes, they would implant the embryos into elephant wombs for delivery. Although mammoths became extinct about 10,000 years ago, they are considered to be close enough relatives to the modern elephant.

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About the author

Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.

 

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