A Crazy, Stupid, Arrogant Idea. Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

First of all they aren’t talking about bringing BACK the mammoth but creating an elephant-mammoth hybrid with long hair and a lot of fat. To live where? Second, lower in the article is the statement that mammoths pushing away snow to get at the grass beneath exposes the soil so the permnafrost can stay frozen. Really? Seriously?

Scientists Say They Could Bring Back Woolly Mammoths. But Maybe They Shouldn’t

Updated September 15, 20216:24 AM ET

Scott Neuman Twitter

An artist’s impression of a woolly mammoth in a snow-covered environment. Leonello Calvetti/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images/Stocktrek Images

Using recovered DNA to “genetically resurrect” an extinct species — the central idea behind the Jurassic Park films — may be moving closer to reality with the creation this week of a new company that aims to bring back woolly mammoths thousands of years after the last of the giants disappeared from the Arctic tundra.

Flush with a $15 million infusion of funding, Harvard University genetics professor George Church, known for his pioneering work in genome sequencing and gene splicing, hopes the company can usher in an era when mammoths “walk the Arctic tundra again.” He and other researchers also hope that a revived species can play a role in combating climate change.

“We are working towards bringing back species who left an ecological void as they went extinct,” the company, Colossal, said in answer to questions emailed by NPR. “As Colossal actively pursues the conservation and preservation of endangered species, we are identifying species that can be given a new set of tools from their extinct relatives to survive in new environments that desperately need them.”

To be sure, what’s being proposed is actually a hybrid created using a gene-editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 to splice bits of DNA recovered from frozen mammoth specimens into that of an Asian elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative. The resulting animal — known as a “mammophant” — would look, and presumably behave, much like a woolly mammoth.

Some say reintroduced mammoths could help reverse climate change

Church and others believe that resurrecting the mammoth would plug a hole in the ecosystem left by their decline about 10,000 years ago (although some isolated populations are thought to have remained in Siberia until about 1,700 B.C.). The largest mammoths stood more than 10 feet at the shoulder and are believed to have weighed as much as 15 tons.

Mammoths once scraped away layers of snow so that cold air could reach the soil and maintain the permafrost. After they disappeared, the accumulated snow, with its insulating properties, meant the permafrost began to warm, releasing greenhouse gases, Church and others contend. They argue that returning mammoths — or at least hybrids that would fill the same ecological niche — to the Arctic could reverse that trend.

“With the reintroduction of the woolly mammoth … we believe our work will restore this degraded ecosystem to a richer one, similar to the tundra that existed as recently as 10,000 years ago,” the company says.

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Love Dalén, a professor in evolutionary genetics at the Stockholm-based Centre for Palaeogenetics, is skeptical of that claim.

“I personally do not think that this will have any impact, any measurable impact, on the rate of climate change in the future, even if it were to succeed,” he tells NPR. “There is virtually no evidence in support of the hypothesis that trampling of a very large number of mammoths would have any impact on climate change, and it could equally well, in my view, have a negative effect on temperatures.”

The body of Lyuba, a baby woolly mammoth who lived about 42,000 years ago on the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia, is exhibited in Hong Kong. South China Morning Post/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

The techniques might be better used to help endangered species

But even if the researchers at Colossal can bring back mammoths — and that is not certain — the obvious question is, should they?

“I can see some reasons to do the first steps where you are tinkering with cell lines and editing the genomes,” Dalén says. “I think there is a lot of technological development that can be done [and] we can learn a lot about how to edit genomes, and that could be really useful for endangered species today.”

Joseph Frederickson, a vertebrate paleontologist and director of the Weis Earth Science Museum in Menasha, Wis., was inspired as a child by the original Jurassic Park movie. But even he thinks that the more important goal should be preventing extinction rather than reversing it.

“If you can create a mammoth or at least an elephant that looks like a good copy of a mammoth that could survive in Siberia, you could do quite a bit for the white rhino or the giant panda,” he tells NPR.

Especially for animals that have “dwindling genetic diversity,” Frederickson says, adding older genes from the fossil record or entirely new genes could increase the health of those populations.

Speaking with NPR in 2015, Beth Shapiro, a paleogeneticist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction,said emphatically, “I don’t want to see mammoths come back.”

“It’s never going to be possible to create a species that is 100% identical,” she said. “But what if we could use this technology not to bring back mammoths but to save elephants?”

Mammoths might upset existing ecosystems

Colossal’s expressed aim also brings up another ethical concern: Although the extinction of the mammoth thousands of years ago left a gap in the ecosystem, that ecosystem has presumably now adapted, at least imperfectly, to their absence.

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“There is a new normal that has existed for thousands of years that has adapted to the continually changing climate,” Frederickson says. “Bringing back something that has all the characteristics that would have thrived in the Pleistocene doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to survive today, especially when you’re mixing in the unknowns of other genes that are acting in a warm-weather tropical animal and then trying to move it to a new environment.”

“There were plants and animals that were living alongside the mammoth that are now long gone or have drastically shrunk in their range, and just bringing back the mammoth won’t bring those back,” he says.

Colossal says it’s not trying to bring back an invasive species but instead wants to “enrich an ecosystem that has been, and continues to be, steadily degrading without its presence.”

In yet a different sense, there’s the question of how mammoths might fit in.

“The proposed ‘de-extinction’ of mammoths raises a massive ethical issue. The mammoth was not simply a set of genes — it was a social animal, as is the modern Asian elephant,” Matthew Cobb, a professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, told The Guardian, in 2017. “What will happen when the elephant-mammoth hybrid is born? How will it be greeted by elephants?”

Predicted six-year timeline would be exceptionally short

All of this, of course, assumes that producing a mammophant is even possible. Colossal says it hopes to produce an embryo in six years. But with an estimated 1.4 million individual genetic mutations separating the ancient creatures from Asian elephants, the task of gene splicing could prove a mammoth undertaking.

Perhaps an even bigger obstacle might be developing an artificial uterus for gestating the embryos. Even Church acknowledges that this might not be so easy. Among other things, the company plans to create “a pumping system for exchange of gas, nutrient and waste metabolites, and umbilical blood supply with the goal of carrying a woolly mammoth embryo to term in vitro.” Researchers have been working on just such a device, but technical hurdles remain.

“Is this going to happen anytime soon? The answer is absolutely not,” says Frederickson.

Dalén agrees that the six-year timeline is “exceptionally short.” “It seems pretty ambitious,” he says.

But Church and his colleagues aren’t alone in their ambition. The idea of mammoth de-extinction has been around for some time, and other groups, such as the California-based nonprofit Revive & Restore, which last year managed the first-ever clone of an endangered species, the black-footed ferret, have also been working on a mammoth-elephant hybrid.

The Salt

Woolly Mammoths’ Taste For Flowers May Have Been Their Undoing

The traditional scientific view is that our ancestors hunted the mammoth to extinction, while more recent theories point to habitat destruction at the end of the last ice age as the biggest factor, but with humans still copping part of the blame.

Frederickson thinks that’s one of the reasons that the question of de-extinction — fueled by pop culture and real-world advances in science — is raised so frequently by

the patrons at the museum he heads. “I think, as humans, we have a little bit of guilt in us, still knowing that we almost certainly contributed to that extinction event.”

“This may be a way of getting that burden off of our backs,” he says.


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The Volcano Has Changed

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The volcano in southwest Iceland has been erupting for 85 days more or less, and until very recently it was erupting every 7-12 minutes, flowing lava for a minute or two, then subsiding. The time between eruptions was long enough for the lava to cool on the surface and the mountain to become dark. Even yesterday, though the eruptions seemed to be a bit closer together, there were long pauses, several minutes, when the mountain went dark.

No more. Something happened. Yesterday or the day before the top of the volcano, a sort of lid over the pool of lava, fell into the lava pool, and pool seemed wider afterwards. This evening when I turned on the video feed the lava flow was steady, changing very little minute to minute, flowing all the time. This means that the flow of lava emerging from the vent must be five to twelve times the flow when the eruptions were sporadic, and it seems in the night shots I see now that much of the lower lakes of lava and pooled material are glowing red and moving.

Wow.


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The Fire Below….

Right now, May 24, 2021, there are at least two volcanoes erupting, one in Iceland and another in the Congo. Both eruptions are big and long lasting, producing rivers of lava. The video below is the Iceland volcano, which has been erupting for a couple of weeks. To me it is astonishing to see the molten rock flowing like water, even producing waves. Even more astonishing is the realization that beneath us lie cubic miles of hot molten magma. Here in the Pacific Northwest we live beneath a line of great volcanoes, one of which exploded 40 years ago, Mount St. Helens. It seems that these great volcano areas lie along the edge of a continental plate, such that when another great plate thrusts beneath it, huge earthquakes happen. There was an earthquake here in 2001, big enough to cause damage, shake buildings, cause higher buildings to sway back and forth, and this earthquake was nowhere the size of what everyone is predicting eventually. It seems the energy of the rock thrusting beneath other rock creates friction and heat, and magma, which will burst to the surface under pressure. There are other areas, like Yellowstone, which have been called “super volcanoes” because of the size of the magma chamber beneath.

We have evidence of huge eruptions in the past, huge. We know about huge flooding of magma across thousands of square miles of land, just as we now know of enormous glacial floods in the past, not to mention asteroid strikes, some large enough to create craters fifty miles ion diameter.

So, are these two eruptions occurring now an indication of a period of greater volcanic activity? We won’t know until after it happens.

All of which to say, again, geologic time is totally different than human lifespan time-sense. Our ability to hear eye witness accounts of events is limited to, at best, 70-90 years. Then information is second-hand, then third-hand. By the time of third and fourth hand transmission memory has been lost, the stories have changed, the great event is lost in the mists of time. We humans like to erase uncomfortable history, and we do it all the time. We seem wired to forget pain, discomfort, such that we can endure it again. There is evidence that 700 to 1,000 years ago great forest fires swept the entire U.S. West, all of it, a thousand times worse than the worst fire season we have seen to date.

When I see a video like this one here I am reminded of how little we know, and how humble we should be…..


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Magic?

The stories that come to me fall in the category of adventure/magic realism, and I confess to treasuring those things in life that remain unexplained, mysterious, and hence magical. To me, one of the mist powerful indicators that magic might be real lies in dowsing.

Perhaps I should have written this yesterday, April 1, as my guess is most people think dowsing – finding water with a stick or using a metal rod to find underground pipes and metals – is a complete hoax.  I first heard about dowsing when I was a little boy, maybe four years old, when we were living in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, a tiny community up in the hills behind Amherst. This was back in the days when roads were repaired using a truck filled with thick oil and a bed of pebbly small gravel. The truck would roll down the road and a wagon holding pebbly small gravel would drop the gravel in a thin layer on the road surface, and behind the wagon would be pulled another tank wagon holding hot thick oil, which would be dribbled into the gravel to soak in and then harden. But this was also back in the day when most of the roads up in the hills were still dirt.

Someone a few houses down the way was trying to dig a well, and had already sunk two holes without success. One day my dad grabbed me and took me on his shoulders to the property to watch a dowser, because the guy digging the well had called in the dowser to find water, find a spot to dig the third hole. The dowser seemed ancient, and his stick was completely clear of bark and shiny, and he held it in his hands before him, a forked “Y” of a stick with the two wings of the “Y” pointing down, one wing in the palm of each up-facing hand, fingers curled around. The man walked across the property holding the stick before him, single end pointing at the sky, arms straight before him. Then the stick turned down, the up-facing end turning down toward the man carrying it, which explained to me why he was holding it so straight away from himself, to give the end room to pass his face and chest.

“Here,” he said. This is a vivid memory to me, even all these years later. I also remember my dad announcing, one day after that, with great satisfaction, that the neighbor had found water where the dowser indicated. My dad, who was a wildlife biologist, and scientist, remained fascinated all his life that there remained this thing – dowsing – which defied explanation. It still does, it seems.

The year after my freshman year in college I had a summer job in the hills of Western Massachusetts removing the brush beneath a power line right of way running from the Connecticut River to the Yankee Atomic power plant in southern Vermont. It was hard work, the summer was hot, the brush thick. There were six of us on the crew, all kids 18 or 19 years old. One day during a break one of the kids, Alan, announced he was a dowser. I said to him, remembering my four year old memory, “Prove it.” He marched off to some thick brush and cut a living branch from a willow-like small tree, Y-shaped, and he held it just as had the old dowser years before. We all watched him as he walked back and forth until the stick began to turn down, and it was easy to see he was fighting it, trying to prevent the stick from turning. But, once it started, as he moved, it kept going. By the end his face was red. I thought he might be playing a trick, so I cut a branch from the same tree, held it just as Alan had, and I started walking.

When the stick began to move it pulled toward me and then down, and, try as I might, I could not hold it back. It was unbelievable, that power. The stick was from a living bush and I was strong and I fought it, holding as tight as I could, and yet the stick kept pointing down. The force was so strong the bark surrounding the stick ripped off the stick in my hands. Peter, and Neil, two of the other guys tried it, too, but it didn’t work with them. They didn’t believe Alan or me at all when we spoke of the force.

I imagine you, too, may be rolling your eyes, as so many do. Some of you, those who have tried it and felt the power, are nodding, others may be intrigued, but I suspect most are shaking their heads.

I became a believer that day, had to, because the power of that force was astounding, unmistakable, and real. Whence came it? Some kind of charge between the water in the stick and water below? Perhaps some twisting of gravity? A mental force, perhaps?

Of course we didn’t dig out there in that rocky right of way to see if there was water there, so we never knew, then, exactly, but that force was real.

It was later, and another story, or two, that I learned what that stick was pointing toward.


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Dowsing for fish

Every fall the bluefin tuna run into Cape Cod Bay and people go out with their boats to harpoon them. The boats are anywhere from 30 to 50 feet long, there’s a stand on the bow you go out on to “stick” the fish, which can be seen on the surface sunning itself. These fish are BIG up to 1,000 pounds and worth big money. One fish can be worth $ 20,000 and is sold fresh in the Tokyo market after being flown there overnight. So this is a short but big money fishery. One year my first skipper Sten was out there trying to get tunafish, with one sternman, but he got nothing. Not a thing, and he was a good fisherman.  Meanwhile my friend Gerry, who like me was first taught by Sten, was with one Elmer Costa on his big black boat the Columbia, and Gerry and Elmer had two fish. Sten was dying of curiosity, what was Gerry and Elmer doing that Sten was not? It bothered Sten. A lot. Meanwhile the season went on and Elmer and Gerry got another fish, and by this time Sten was sort of following them around, hoping to see their trick. Their technique.

This was the same year I had shown Sten with a dowsing stick where his well was, and found his gold coin, and this also perplexed him greatly, but not as much as being outfished by someone he had trained. Gerry and I had a discussion one afternoon because we both wanted to further excite Sten, and then I called Sten and said to him, “Listen, Sten, if you want to see the trick Gerry’s using, you follow Elmer tomorrow, close, get up right by their stern and take a look.”

This Sten did, it being a foggy morning so he was able to nose in real close, and he came around the stern of the Columbia and peered through the mist and saw Gerry on the stern of the Columbia holding in his hands a dowsing stick, facing aft, the stick standing upright and held in his two hands. Sten peered closer and realized that on the end of the stick Gerry was holding was an empty Bumblebee tunafish can.

This incident gave us much amusement, but then a strange thing happened. Sten began to catch fish and Gerry and Elmer were skunked, as we used to say. Sten ended the season with one more fish than Gerry and Elmer. This confused Gerry, and me, too, and one day that winter in the coffee shop we saw Sten and asked him, what changed for him? Sten gave each of us a long heavy-lidded look and cracked a slow smile.

“You were using the wrong can,” he said. “I caught my fish not with Bumblebee but with Chicken of the Sea.”

Sten passed away in 1998, brain tumor, but until he was across the bar he always said, with a perfectly straight face, when we asked, “Of course it’s true.”


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