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A Mammoth Step Forward


A Texas-based biotechnology startup, Colossal Biosciences, announced yesterday it had successfully transformed elephant cells into an embryo-like state—a key step in its effort to engineer a close approximation to extinct woolly mammoths. 


The approach can be traced to 2006 when Nobel Prize-winning research proved that mouse cells could be reverted into embryo-like stem cells capable of growing into various forms of tissue (watch overview). This process has worked in humans, monkeys, and leopards but proved difficult to apply to elephant cells, which researchers linked to elephants' innate resistance to cancer. The team now says it created the embryo-like cells capable of creating elephant tissue like hair or blood. The company plans to use these cells to experiment with tissue samples and identify gene changes required to infuse Asian elephants with mammoth-like traits, including shaggy hair.


A living, mammoth-like elephant is likely a number of years away. In the meantime, however, scientists have already created mammoth meatballs.

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