Source: YouTube

Scientists at Colossal Biosciences have achieved a significant breakthrough in stem cell research, potentially advancing efforts to resurrect woolly mammoths. The company successfully derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from Asian elephants, a crucial step in exploring genetic adaptations that distinguish woolly mammoths from their living relatives. These iPSCs eliminate the need to extract tissue from live animals, offering insights into features such as shaggy hair, curved tusks, fat deposits, and a dome-shaped cranium.

Eriona Hysolli, head of biological sciences at Colossal Biosciences, emphasized the iPSCs’ importance in unveiling the cellular and genetic processes behind the woolly mammoths’ Arctic survival. Additionally, iPSCs pave the way for creating elephant sperm and egg cells in the lab, essential for mammoth de-extinction. Given the limited number of Asian elephants in the wild, iPSCs provide a more feasible approach than harvesting cells directly from these endangered animals.

Overcoming the complexity of the elephant gene pathway, specifically the TP53 pathway, proved challenging. By suppressing these core genes regulating cell growth, researchers successfully obtained elephant iPSCs. This breakthrough not only supports mammoth de-extinction but also sheds light on early elephant development, a critical aspect for the potential creation of woolly mammoth embryos.

While engineering a woolly mammoth embryo is now less challenging, the focus shifts to addressing the intricate elephant gestation period. The team acknowledges the need for additional research to mature the iPSCs and explore alternative methods. The breakthrough, set to be published on bioRxiv, awaits peer review.

Vincent Lynch, a developmental biologist at the University at Buffalo, views this achievement as a crucial step towards creating a woolly mammoth-like elephant. Reprogramming elephant cells into iPSCs extends beyond de-extinction, offering applications in elephant conservation by enabling the artificial production and fertilization of reproductive cells.

Hysolli emphasizes the potential to derive gametes from these pluripotent stem cells, providing a long-term solution for saving endangered species. While challenges remain, experts like Lynch believe that the goal of turning iPSCs into sperm and eggs is a matter of time, holding promise for both mammoth de-extinction and broader conservation efforts.

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