Yet because the Asian elephant itself is an endangered species, it would not be ethical for the team to attempt IVF with the mammoth embryos they create, especially considering the odds of successful implantation would be prohibitively low. Instead, they hope to create an artificial womb, not unlike what another team of scientists achieved last year, and grow the fetuses to term in the laboratory.
A possibly more prescient question about the project is not the how but the why. What is the point in spending all this time, money, and effort in bringing back a species that last walked the Earth around 4,000 years ago?
Well, one argument is that the technology to do this could one day be used to help bring back other species that are still around today but might not be for much longer. They hope that by understanding the changes that went into the mammoth adapting to a colder environment, it could help facilitate the adaptation of wildlife to climate change.
Effectively, by trying to bring back one species from extinction, it could potentially stop other extinctions from happening in the future.
The team also hope that by releasing herds of the mammoths to graze the tundra in Siberia, the animals could help slow climate change. To keep the planet cool, you want massive grasslands – also known as mammoth steppe – in the subpolar regions. Unsurprisingly, with the extinction of the mammoth, the extent of this steppe began to shrink.
This has had a dramatic impact on the ability of the environment to absorb and retain carbon, particularly as the underlying permafrost melts. It is hoped that by returning megaherbivores such as mammoths, they could restore this ecosystem to how it was, preserving the permafrost and preventing the possible massive release of methane if it completely melts.