Welcome to Парк юрского периода (that’s Russian for Jurassic Park). After a relatively brief 10,000-year absence, could wooly mammoths be roaming the depths of snowy Russia in the not too distant future? This new research facility in Siberia would like to think so.
At the 4th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok next month, Russia will unveil their plans to open a $5.9 million lab in the Siberian city of Yakutsk that hopes to quickly become a “world-class paleo-genetic scientific center,” according to The Siberian Times.
Together with the South Korean SOOAM Biotech Research Foundation, Russian scientists from the Northern-Eastern Federal University are set to research the genetics of a number of extinct species once native to the area, such the woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, cave lions, and breeds of extinct horses. Although their end goal is still a fair few years from completion, they say their research will help bring these extinct species out of extinction.
The sub-zero temperatures of this part of the world mean it’s a prime location for this "breed" of research. Around 80 percent of soft tissue samples of extinct animals from the Pleistocene and Holocene have been unearthed in this area. That’s namely thanks to permafrost, which helps preserve the tissue like a prehistoric refrigerator.
Even just this week, scientists revealed the discovery of a perfectly preserved 40,000-year-old foal in the Yakutia region of northern Siberia. Last year, researchers found two perfectly preserved cave lion cubs from over 12,000 years ago.
“There is no such unique material anywhere else in the world,” Dr Lena Grigorieva told The Siberian Times.
However, resurrecting extinct species is no small feat, primarily because DNA degrades over time. Even if some of the soft tissue is preserved in permafrost, scientists are left piecing together odd fragments of DNA. It’s hoped that animals such as the mammoth or cave lion have close enough living relatives to fill in the gaps, à la the frog DNA in Jurassic Park.
Still, only one animal has ever been cloned after going extinct, the Pyrenean ibex, which first died off in 1997. The de-extinct individual died after just seven minutes of life, meaning it was also the first animal to go extinct twice.
Even if it’s scientifically possible to reconstruct an extinct species, it comes with a bunch of ethical questions. As Dr Malcolm from Jurassic Park famous quipped, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.”
However, by all accounts, none of these hurdles are discouraging scientists from their efforts.