The woolly mammoth may have become extinct more than 4,000 years ago, but a Texas-based company and a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School are now working together to resurrect the ancient creature. Larger and heavier than modern-day elephants, mammoths roamed the earth during the ice age before perishing, largely due to their inability to adjust to a warming climate and widespread human hunting, or so scientists believe.

The species, which continues to fascinate humans even in the twenty-first century, was also widely plagued with serious genetic disorders caused by generations of inbreeding that created problems with neurological development, infertility, and more. The genetic mutations are also thought to have affected their sense of smell, harming their ability to forage and smell the foliage that made up a large part of their diet.

Now, thousands of years after the woolly mammoth became history, a Dallas-based genetics, and bioscience company called 'Colossal' has reportedly raised $15 million to bring the woolly mammoth back from extinction by 2027. Colossal, which is founded by a tech entrepreneur named Ben Lamm, is working with Harvard genetics professor George Church, widely known for pioneering new approaches to gene editing. Overall, the researchers say they will have to affect more than 50 changes to the genetic code of the Asian elephant to ensure it can survive in the Arctic Tundra. The researchers will also apparently try to create the animals without any tusks so that they are not targeted by ivory poachers.

Mammoth-Elephant Hybrids

As part of their plan, the researchers are said to be using the gene-editing technology called CRISPR to bring the mammoth back to life. However, instead of recreating the ice-age mammoths from the ground up, the company is looking to create a mammoth-elephant hybrid by infusing some of the extinct creature's genetic traits into existing elephants. According to the scientists, two of the mammoth features they are looking to bring back are smaller ears and high levels of body fat, both of which helped mammoths adapt to cold weather.

To create the new mammoth-elephant hybrid calves, scientists plan to take skin cells from Asian elephants, which are more closely related to the mammoths than African elephants but have been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List after their population declined by at least 50% over the last 60-70 years. The skin cells from the elephants will be reprogrammed into more versatile stem cells to carry mammoth DNA. The scientists are currently unsure on whether to use a female elephant as a surrogate mother or opt for an artificial womb to bring the calves to term. If all goes according to plan, the world may get to see woolly mammoths or something very closely related to it again in about six years' time.

As of now, Colossal is a relatively small startup with only 19 employees, but the company is using funds from its $15 million fundraising effort to hire more staff. The company believes that the techniques used in the mammoth resurrection project and the expertise gleaned from it will help it reap benefits in other areas "beyond de-extinction." According to Church, the genome engineering techniques used in this project can be used for more commercially viable projects going forward.