Bringing animals back from the dead

21st June 2013 at 01:00
The woolly mammoth may one day make a comeback if plans for cloning succeed. Where do your students stand on the matter?

Russian scientists who have found the blood and muscle tissue of a Siberian mammoth say there is a chance that the extinct creature can be cloned.

The well-preserved carcass of the female mammoth was found in an ice tomb in the New Siberian Islands, also called the Novosibirsk Islands, off the coast of the Republic of Sakha. It is believed to have died about 10,000 years ago, aged 50-60. Mammoth remains have been found before but none has been as well preserved as this carcass. The discovery raises the prospect of reviving creatures from prehistory - an issue explored in films such as Jurassic Park.

Semyon Grigoriev of North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, the leader of the expedition, said that cloning is a possibility: "The muscle tissue is red, the colour of fresh meat. This find gives us a really good chance of finding live cells, which can help us implement this project to clone a mammoth."

Last year, the university signed a deal with cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk of South Korea's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which in 2005 created the world's first cloned dog.

The remains are now being kept in a secret location and over the next few months mammoth specialists from South Korea, Russia and the US are expected to explore the possibilities.

The story is a good starting point for biology lessons and studies of animal anatomy. It could also be used in history to introduce the topics of lost objects or even ancient cities. Alternatively, students could debate the ethics of whether, through cloning, any animal should be brought back from the dead.

American couple Edgar and Nina Otto were so bereft after the death of their 11-year-old Labrador Sir Lancelot that they spent $155,000 (pound;99,000) on a clone, named Lancelot Encore. The dog is said to so resemble his predecessor that he even crosses his paws in the same way.

Lancelot Encore was the first commercially cloned dog, but the first commercially cloned pet was a cat called Little Nicky (pictured), whose owner, a woman in Texas, US, paid $50,000 (pound;32,000) for a genetic duplicate.

Animal welfare groups are against the cloning of pets, which in any case is financially out of reach for most people. But what do your students think?

CLASS QUESTIONS

What are the most important organs in mammals' bodies and what functions do they perform?

How is blood pumped around the body?

What is the most important environmental element that mammals need to survive?

Should we bring any animal back from the dead? How would you feel if a zoo cloned a dinosaur?

If you had the money, would you clone your dead pet?

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