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Woolly Mammoth may return to Earth after 10,000-year-extinction

Photo by Travis S. via Flickr Creative Commons

Woolly mammoths are coming back to life if a new stem cell project is successful. La Brea Tar Pits, lock the gates.

Last week, a mad scientist from Russia signed a deal with a mad scientist from South Korea on a joint research project intended to bring about the return of the 10,000-year-extinct woolly mammoth. 

Looking to make the most of global warming, researchers turned their attention to the Siberian tundra where thawed permafrost uncovered the remains of the massive land mammal.

The deal was signed by Vasily Vasiliev of the North-Eastern Federal University of the Sakha Republic, and infamous cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-Suk of South Korea's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation.

Hwang, barred from human embryonic stem-cell research after claims of the world's first cloned human embryos turned out to be false, his research in animal cloning continued and was verified in the creation of the world's first dog clone, Snuppy.

Per the deal, the Russian university, which began the project with Japanese scientists (who initially said to look for the creature by 2015), will ship the remains to South Korea. Beijing Genomics Institute will also play a role in the re-creation project.

"The first and hardest mission is to restore mammoth cells," a Sooam researcher told AFP. Critical to success is finding well-preserved tissue with an undamaged gene, he said.

The Jurassic Park-esque plan goes like this: (a) get egg cells from an elephant and (b) replace nuclei with those taken from mammoth somatic cells, thereby creating (c) embryos with mammoth DNA that could be (d) planted into elephant wombs for delivery of (e) woolly mammoths.

For the transfer, Sooam intends to use somatic cells -- found in internal organs, skin, bone and blood -- of an Indian elephant.

The South Korean institute has an extensive history in similar work having previously cloned a cow, a cat, dogs, a pig and a wolf. Its most recent achievement -- eight cloned coyotes.

For a peek at the past (and a look at our possible future), there are significant findings in Ice Age extinction closer to home. The La Brea Tar Pits' bubbling, seeping asphalt deposits just off Wilshire Boulevard have, in fact, yielded one of the planet's largest collections of Ice Age fossils.

Research began there in the early 1900s, and has continued with discoveries of new sites into present day. A nearly intact skeleton of a Columbian mammoth -- a relative of the woolly --  was discovered in a nearby excavation site as recently as 2009.