MSNBC Cosmic Log, etc: Another plan to clone defrosted mammoth. It may bring scientist in from cold too.

Clone a mammoth, eh? Even Nick Wade at the NYTimes, who has often touched on the topic, has left this iteration alone so far. But there are takers on  word out of Russia and Korea of a revived campaign to use DNA from Siberian, ice-preserved woolly mammoths to try to clone a new and woolly baby – presumably gestated in a modern elephant.

Among the ones who took the bait, at his MSNBC Cosmic Log site, is old time newsman Alan Boyle. But he’s not on the hook. He smartly scrutinized the science team’s lineup and put his focus as much on one member – Hwang Woo-Suk, the disgraced fellow who told the world a few years ago his team had cloned embryonic stem cells but hadn’t so much, really – as on the prospects of a mammoth trumpeting along the tundra once again. His hed: Years after scandal, scientist leads campaign to resurrect mammoth. One could interpret that angle as an indirect suggestion that this has an odor and it’s not of a living mammoth. However, other than the top, Boyle mostly plays it straight – listing the Korean scientist’s more recent, less dramatic achievements and his ability to have stuck it out in the science world despite a touch of infamy. Boyle asks readers to give their odds for the project’s success. So here are mine: vanishingly close to zero. Conceivable, but barely. Unimpeded by actual expertise, I figure that without the methylation and other epigenetic factors that control gene expression, and I hear no hint they are being lifted from the long-dead cells too, the expression of genes in any developing embryo, should it get that far, would be way out of whack. Maybe substitute Mama elephant could fill in the gaps? Boyle links to a previous story of his that was overtly skeptical.

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– Charlie Petit


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