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The race for the cloning of an extinct woolly giant, the mammoth, is enriched with a piece: some scientists from Harvard University have managed to insert fragments of the prehistoric animal's DNA into the genetic code of a modern elephant. Not of a pachyderm in flesh bones, but of some of its cells housed in a Petri dish, a laboratory vessel. So far, the cells seem to have fared well.

Natural freezer. The news, still not supported by scientific publications, comes from George Church, an esteemed professor of genetics at Harvard University (Massachusetts), an expert in genetic technologies. Church told his work to the British weekly The Sunday Times. Together with his colleagues he extracted DNA from the remains of a preserved mammoth specimen in the permafrost of Wrangel Island: on this island in the Arctic Ocean the last mammoths on the planet survived, definitively disappeared around 3300 years ago (over 6, 000 years after the extinction of other mammoth populations).

just some genes. Church and colleagues created the exact concise copy of 14 extracted DNA genes: "We have given precedence to those associated with resistance to cold, including those for hairiness, ear size, subcutaneous fat and, especially, the hemoglobin ". The protein contained in the blood, which is responsible for transporting oxygen to the rest of the body, would have helped the mammoths survive the harsh arctic temperatures.

Cut and sew. Scientists have inserted the genes thus created into the cells of an Asian elephant, the closest relative of the extinct beasts. They used a DNA modification system called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats), a genome splicing technique (that is "assembly") that allows to intervene in very precise points of the genetic code, removing parts of the modern DNA to replace them with copies of prehistoric genes.

Image Cloning, DNA reconstruction, crossbreeding: some scientists are trying to bring extinct animals back to life. Mammoths and more: we talk about them on the number href = "http://www.focus.it/mondo-focus/focus-e-speciali/focus/270"> 270 by Focus on newsstands until 19 April 2015 and in digital forever on different platforms: iOS - Android - Amazon - Zinio (web). |

Long way. "We now have working elephant cells with mammoth DNA inside - says Church - we have not yet published research in a scientific journal because there is still a lot of work to be done. But it is in our programs ยป. From here to the replication of the "on-site" process, perhaps in the egg cell of an elephant (in order to obtain an elephant with some physical features of mammoths) the jump is great. And not without ethical implications, well summarized by Alex Greenwood, biologist at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in the USA.

Too much in there. "We are going to meet the potential extinction of Asian and African elephants - Greenwood said in an intervention on the Telegraph - why bring back another elephant from extinction, when we cannot keep alive those we already have? What is the message? That we can be as irresponsible with the environment as we want, at most we clone it again? "