Although extinct now for around 4500 years, the woolly mammoth was one of the most magnificent animals ever to walk the earth. Closely related to our modern day elephants, they were a much larger species often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long, course hair.
The largest known species, the Songhua River mammoth (Mammuthus sungari) , reached heights of at least 5 metres (16 ft) at the shoulder. Mammoths would probably normally weigh in the region of 6 to 8 tons, but exceptionally large males may have exceeded 12 tons. However, most species of mammoth were only about as large as a modern Asian elephant.
The Roslin Institute, famous for cloning Dolly the sheep, has published some thoughts on the possibilities of bringing extinct species back to life.
It said it was extremely unlikely such an experiment would be successful, especially using an elephant surrogate:
'...assuming that viable cells are found it becomes a numbers game. Let's say that one in a thousand cells were nevertheless viable, practical issues come into play. Given that we have an efficiency of 1% cloning for livestock species and if only one in a thousand cells are viable then around 100,000 cells would need to be transferred...'
Charles Foster, a fellow at Green Templeton College, Oxford, seemed more optimistic.
'...the idea of mammoth cloning isn't completely ridiculous. How the resultant embryos would fare beyond the stage of a few cells is more or less unknown. While most of the genetic coding of the embryo would come from the mammoth, some would come from the elephant ovum. We really don't know what the contribution of that cytoplasmic material is, or how it would interact with 'alien' DNA. It would however mean that, even if successful, the clone would be a hybrid rather than a pure mammoth...'
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based on an article by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammoth and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16068581
Photos care of http://www.amnh.org/science/papers/mammoths.php and http://true-wildlife.blogspot.com/2011/04/woolly-mammoth.html