Fresh from the Siberian tundra, an 18,000-year- old frozen woolly mammoth went on display today at the opening of the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi, Japan. Still partially tufted with hair, the Ice Age plant-eater's head and other parts are stored in a giant refrigerator-turned-laboratory. Scientists at the expo say they hope to use the specimen to uncover why mammoths went extinct.
A team of Japanese genetic scientists aims to bring woolly mammoths back to life and create a Jurassic Park-style refuge for resurrected species. The effort has garnered new attention as a frozen mammoth is drawing crowds at the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi, Japan.
The team of scientists, which is not associated with the exhibit, wants to do more than just put a carcass on display. They aim to revive the Ice Age plant-eaters, 10,000 years after they went extinct.
Their plan: to retrieve sperm from a mammoth frozen in tundra, use it to impregnate an elephant, and then raise the offspring in a safari park in the Siberian wild.
"If we create a mammoth, we will know much more about these animals, their history, and why they went extinct," said Kazufumi Goto, head scientist at the Mammoth Creation Project. The venture is privately funded and includes researchers from various institutions in Japan.
Many mammoth experts scoff at the idea, calling it scientifically impossible and even morally irresponsible.
"DNA preserved in ancient tissues is fragmented into thousands of tiny pieces nowhere near sufficiently preserved to drive the development of a baby mammoth," said Adrian Lister, a paleontologist at University College London in England.
Furthermore, Lister added, "the natural habitat of the mammoth no longer exists. We would be creating an animal as a theme park attraction. Is this ethical?"
Mammoths first appeared in Africa about four million years ago, then migrated north and dispersed widely across Europe and Asia.
At first a fairly generalized elephant species, mammoths evolved into several specialized species adapted to their environments. The hardy woolly mammoths, for instance, thrived in the cold of Ice Age Siberia.
In carvings and cave paintings, Ice Age humans immortalized the giant beasts, which stood about 11 feet (3.4 meters) tall at the shoulder and weighed about seven tons.
"It is hard to imagine that woolly mammoths browsed around the places where we live now, and our ancestors saw them, lived with them, and even hunted them," said Andrei Sher, a paleontologist and mammoth expert at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution in Moscow, Russia.
Story continues at nationalgeographic.com.