Is it really possible to bring back a species that hasn’t been around for 4,500 years? I am here to talk about a relatively recent emergence in science – the ability to change genes. DNA editing is a more accurate description actually. And the science of it has been fine-tuned since 2012, when the CRISPR/Cas9 technique was first introduced. This technology, developed by Harvard professors here in America, is the best known way to edit DNA and makes the prospect of de-extincting woolly mammoths a very realistic goal. Scientists say this could be done within the next two years. Technology that was just 5 years ago being done in the most prestigious laboratories in the world can be done today in a high school biology classroom. Now that this technology is much better understood, the possibilities of genetic modification are endless.
What CRISPR does is find the undesirable gene strand in an organism’s DNA and can “cut and paste“ what we want the DNA to say. We know that modern elephants are close relatives to woolly mammoths, so scientists are just modifying an elephant embryo to change it into a mammoth.
CRISPR/Cas9 is already being used for medical purposes – it’s tech can be used on newborn babies to change a human’s DNA. It is now being used to fight cancer – some say it is a promising cure – but it could also be used for a number of things. If you wanted your child to have perfect pitch, for example, or prevent them from premature balding, or want them to be tall, it can all be modified using this technique (mind you, it still is undergoing development). That’s right, it is now possible for us to create a genetically “perfect” person.
Another use for this technology would be for extinction prevention. If a species is endangered due to not enough gene diversity, we could add modified animals to their gene pool with some small modifications. Current elephants today could also benefit from this tech – integrating a trait that allows elephants to be more resistant to the cold (using a gene from a mammoth) could raise their chances of thriving in the wild. CRISPR is going to change the future as we know it – whether that is a good or a bad thing, we’ll have to find out.