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Their closest living relative is the Asian, rather than the African, elephant.'De-extincting' the mammoth has become a realistic prospect because of revolutionary gene editing techniques that allow the precise selection and insertion of DNA from specimens frozen over millennia in Siberian ice.The woolly mammoth roamed the icy tundra of Europe and North America for 140,000 years, disappearing at the end of the Pleistocene period, 10,000 years ago.
Professor George Church, who heads the Harvard team, said: 'We're working on ways to evaluate the impact of all these edits and are basically trying to establish embryogenesis in the lab.'The list of edits affects things that contribute to the success of elephants in cold environments.'We already know about ones to do with small ears, sub-cutaneous fat, hair and blood, but there are others that seem to be positively selected.'He added: 'Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant/mammoth embryo.
Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits.'We're not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.'The woolly mammoth roamed across Europe, Asia, Africa and North America during the last Ice Age and vanished around 10,000 years ago.
The scientists have ambitious plans to grow it within an artificial womb rather than recruit a female elephant as a surrogate mother.
Since starting the project in 2015, the researchers have increased the number of 'edits' where mammoth DNA has been spliced into the elephant genome from 15 to 45.
Curved tusks were up to 16 feet (5m) long and their underbellies boasted a coat of shaggy hair up to 3 feet (1m) long.
Tiny ears and short tails prevented vital body heat being lost.
Mammoths went extinct more than 10,000 years ago, with scientists unsure whether human hunting or climate change finished them off.
Now Mr Thiel is said to have backed a top Harvard team attempting to bring the enormous mammals back to life In February, the group announced that the scheme would take just two more years to produce the 'nearest possible thing to a mammoth' that could be created.
Using this technique, scientists could cut and paste preserved mammoth DNA into Asian elephants to create and elephant-mammoth hybrid.
Now Mr Thiel is said to have backed a top Harvard team attempting to bring the enormous mammals back to life.
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