The genetically created creature will "walk like a Woolly Mammoth, look like one, sound like one," and "inhabit the same ecosystem," according to the group behind the project, the Texas-based company Colossal. Though some members of the scientific community have doubts about the feasibility of the project, it is indeed real, as explained on Colossal's website.
In late January 2023, media reports highlighted efforts of a group of scientists and entrepreneurs, as Popular Mechanics put it, to "reincarnate" a Wooly Mammoth. That group, the Texas-based company Colossal, claims it will create, in the lab, a creature that closely resembles a Woolly Mammoth by 2027. As stated on its website:
Colossal's landmark de-extinction project will be the resurrection of the Woolly Mammoth - or more specifically a cold-resistant elephant with all of the core biological traits of the Woolly Mammoth. It will walk like a Woolly Mammoth, look like one, sound like one, but most importantly it will be able to inhabit the same ecosystem previously abandoned by the Mammoth's extinction.
Colossal was founded by Harvard geneticist George Church and entrepreneur Ben Lamb, and launched, officially, in September 2021. Church is a pioneer in the practice of CRISPR (pronounced "crisper") gene-editing technology. The basics of that technique are described on Colossal's website:
CRISPR is an engineered cellular technology used for recognizing and cutting a specific code of DNA inside the nucleus. Once this DNA is cut, a laboratory modified version of DNA is inserted and reanneals the cut DNA by binding to the specific code. […]
In mammalian cells, such as an elephant or a Woolly Mammoth, CRISPR works with an enzyme called Cas9 to modify genes. A CRISPR-Cas9 complex will use a single guide RNA from CRISPR to guide and recognize a specific sequence of DNA, where the Cas9 molecule will cleave those strands that are complementary to the CRISPR sequence. This allows for the reinsertion of the laboratory engineered DNA. [...] Ultimately, giving us the ability to insert cold-resistant characteristics into elephant DNA - leading to the de-extinction of the Woolly Mammoth.
Using software and recovered genetic samples, Church and his team have identified the key genetic differences between extant elephants, like the Asian and African elephants, and the Woolly Mammoth. Their plan is to insert reconstructed mammoth DNA into portions of the African elephant genome, creating an embryo that will incubate in a synthetic mammoth uterus, as described by the New York Times:
Initially, Dr. Church envisioned implanting embryos into surrogate female elephants. But he eventually soured on the idea. Even if he could figure out in vitro fertilization for elephants — which no one has done before — building a herd would be impractical, since he would need so many surrogates.
Instead, Dr. Church decided to make an artificial mammoth uterus lined with uterine tissue grown from stem cells. 'I'm not making a bold prediction this is going to be easy,' he said. 'But everything up to this point has been relatively easy. Every tissue we've gone after, we've been able to get a recipe for.'
The company claims that the reintroduction of a genetically created mammoth into the arctic could provide ecological and climate benefits by bringing back what's known as mammoth steppe, as explained on Colossal's website:
Re-establishing an ecosystem filled with grasslands will help to create a cycle that prevents the thaw and release of stored greenhouse gases within the arctic permafrost. With cold-tolerant elephant mammoth hybrids grazing the grasslands and roaming comfortably during the winters, they scrape away layers of snow, so that the cold air can reach the soil. This also allows grasslands to thrive and since they're lighter than forestry, the snow won't melt as quickly. Making way for another benefit - a surface that reflects the Sun's radiation.
Because Colossal is a real company headed by a pioneer in the field of CRISPR gene editing, and because the company has publicly stated its goal of using recovered genetic material to "de-extinct" the Wooly Mammoth by 2027, the claim is "True."