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Dolly the Sheep cloner considers re-creating woolly mammoth

Sir Ian Wilmut, who created the famous cloned sheep, examines in a new article how he might take bone marrow from a woolly mammoth and re-create the species.

A 42,000-year-old baby woolly mammoth discovered in 2007.
NTDTV/Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

We're soon going to be able to live forever.

One resuscitation expert offered recently that death will be reversible.

So the distinctions between the past and present, between history and dreaming, may blur considerably.

It was delightful, therefore, to read Wednesday morning that a world-famous scientist is musing about re-creating a woolly mammoth.

The Guardian explains how the very same scientist who cloned Dolly the Sheep is now considering bigger fish, as it were.

Stem-cell scientist Sir Ian Wilmut (make a sheep and you become a "Sir") has begun to muse on the possibilities of taking centuries-old cells and bringing one of Hollywood's favorite animals back to life.

In an article for the very serious journal The Conversation, Wilmut expressed excitement about frozen mammoth bones found in northern Siberia.

If thawing hasn't begun, it is possible that undamaged marrow cells might be obtained. They might even be viable for the beginnings of a mammoth re-creation.

It's a meticulous science, however. He writes: "By the time you've got a bone sticking up in the sunshine, it's effectively too late. You need to get it straight out of the deep freeze, as it were."

Wilmut is unconvinced that such Mammoth-making would involve the same methods used to create Dolly. However, he believes it might be possible to take viable mammoth cells and create stem cells.

He writes: "In several different species it is possible simply by the introduction of four selected proteins to give adult cells the characteristics of embryo stem cells."

His idea then is to compare these cells with those of elephants. He even considers the possibility of mammoth sperm being able to fertilize an elephant.

One issue would be that elephants live in warm climates, while mammoths had their wooliness for a reason: they were in places like Siberia.

Wilmut isn't the first to muse about mammoth creation. In 2011, Professor Akira Iritani of Kyoto University thought he might be able to clone a mammoth "in four or five years." (We were unable to ascertain his progress thus far.)

Then there's Hwang Woo-Suk, a scientist from South Korea, who signed an agreement earlier this year with North-Eastern Federal University in Russia. This agreement also includes mention of bringing a mammoth back to life, in six years.

Might we soon see woolly mammoths wandering down freeways in search of entertainment? (And perhaps one or two with Hollywood agents?)

Wilmut himself wouldn't consider letting any re-created woolly mammoth or mammoth-elephant hybrid out into the wild. For him, the experiment would serve purely to enhance scientific understanding.

But as scientific and technological possibilities seem to expand our sense of time, space, and even self, who mightn't imagine that, at some point, mankind will be able to re-create all sorts of creatures from the past?

Just imagine how Vegas would change if you could clone an infinite number of Elvises and velociraptors.