Technology page Retrobreeding the Wo

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The following article is reproduced from the April 1984 issue of the MIT
"Technology Review," page 85.

		Retrobreeding the Woolly Mammoth

	Last year in the Soviet Union, Dr. Sverbighooze Nikhiphorovitch
Yasmilov, head of veterinary research at the University of Irkutsk, 
young woolly mammoth found frozen in Siberia.  Although the cytoplasm
- the material forming the bulk of the cell - was unhealthy, Yasmilov
cytoplasm from elsewhere in the mammoth.

	Yasmilov continued his investigations by sending some cells to
Dr. James Creak of MIT for testing.  Creak heated the DNA from the
mammoth ova until it dissolved into short lengths of code.  After a
number of false starts, he tried mixing it with a similarly prepared
mammoth code that matched "zipped themselves together," according to
Creak, "as DNA is wont to do."  This "paired DNA," representing the
code common to elephants and woolly mammoths, was centrifuged off,
leaving a residue of code that differed between the two species.  The

	This started Creak thinking.  The elephant has 56 chromosomes,
and the mammoth has 58.  "Now look at the donkey and the horse," Creak
explained.  "The donkey has 62 chromosomes and the horse has 64, yet
unreasonable to suggest an elephant-mammoth hybrid?"

	Creak communicated the good news at once to Yasmilov, who
n their new cytoplasm, with sperm from an Asian elephant bull.  As
Creak points out, this delicate work requires highly skilled
technicians.  "In this profession," he observed, "people who can work
baseball players, and they are even more valuable because the stakes
are higher."

	Creak expressed concern about the state of experimental
carefully thought-out steps.  They are like accountants, and might as
enormous risks.  Of course, the rewards are commensurately high if the

	Yasmilov attempted to artificially inseminate the mammoth ova
elephant cow must be in heat and proceed directly to the pregnant
term, giving birth to the first known elephant-mammoth hybrids.

	Scientists have classified the calves as woolly mammoths
according to two criteria.  First, the yellow-brown hair that covered
the newborn did not fall out after birth, as it does in "modern"
elephants.  Second, the calves' jaw structure closely resembles that
of mammoths.

	Finding a scientific name for the young mammoth-elephant
Linguistics Department suggests the word "mammontelephas" (it's
and the Greek "elephas," or elephant.  "It has - dare I say it? -
almost a Byzantine ring," said Hoffman.  Creak proposed the
biological name "Elephas Pseudotherias," which would make the animals
members of the Theria class of mammals.  He added that the young
mammontelephases belong to the order Proboscidea, having a long

	Unfortunately for those who had hoped to breed the two
mammals, both are male.  They are probably sterile anyway, Creak
n the mule's body cells divide randomly into 31 or 32 in the gametes,
or germ cells.  When two mules mate, the pairs of germ cells are so
unevenly matched that the chromosomes simply cannot pair up.  In fact,
the Roman expression for "once in a blue moon" was "cum mula peperit"
- "when the mule foals."

	Although they will not reach adult size for another 25 years,
the new mammoth calves have already exhibited extraordinary toughness
by surviving the bitter cold of Irkutsk.  They are being kept in an
outdoor enclosure, and their reaction to the local weather conditions
s being carefully monitored.

	Mindful of the elephants used by Hannibal and Alexander the
Great in cold climes, Yasmilov plans to train the mammontelephases to
earn their keep when they reach adulthood.  They could help pull
mmobilized convoy trucks out of the snowdrifts on the Trans-Siberian
also be used for logging, and there may even be a job on the
Trans-Siberian pipeline.

					    --- Diana ben-Aaron
						  April 1, 1984