Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mammoths. We Want Them Back?

Don't get me wrong, I was an ardent and outspoken fan of Woolly Mammoths decades before there was such a thing as Facebook where we could publicly register our likes and dislikes, but as I read accounts of new research on these beasts, as fascinating as they are, I hesitate:
[R]esearchers have recreated [woolly mammoth hemoglobin] using a bacteria reprogrammed with 43,000-year-old mammoth DNA.

What the extinct pachyderm's oxygen-carrying blood molecule has revealed are some unique adaptations to cold which allowed mammoths to survive the most brutal Arctic ice age winters without their limbs falling off. The discovery might also lead to medical applications for humans. [emphasis mine]
It's this second paragraph that starts to unweave the imaginative rainbow. The entirety of the romantic promise in the idea of resurrecting these and other extinct creatures lies in the unexpected: What will they be like? How will they really look? Just how wild, ungovernable, and contumacious will they be compared with modern-day elephants? Or will they take to being docile pets? Might they offer genuine surprises -- a tendency to maul zoo keepers, terrifying vocalizations, unexpected foot speed or climbing ability, the occasional limb falling off when exposed to adverse weather?

Frankly, I don't particularly want to see woolly mammoths revived from DNA scraps if they're just going to turn out to be elephants with more hair and longer tusks. It's been done.

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