A woolly mammoth inside a permafrost cave in Yakutsk.

Initial Stage Reached on Dream of Cloning Woolly Mammoth

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By The Siberian Times / By Olga Gertcyk

A South Korean specialist hails the opening of new World Mammoth Centre in Siberia, dedicated to bringing the beast back to life. Cloning guru Professor Hwang Woo-Suk did not go into details of the progress made in restoring the extinct species after several thousand years of extinction, but made clear he expected to publish new research in scientific journals as soon as 'checks' are complete.

Speaking in Yakutsk - Russia's mammoth capital which is to host a pioneering new international centre dedicated to the creature - the controversial South Korean scientist confirmed progress in bringing the animal back to life after cooperation between experts from the two countries.

'As a result of tireless joint efforts, we have achieved what we call the 'initial stage' on our way to recovering the mammoth,' he said, thanking Russian president Vladimir Putin for his support for research in this field. 'At this stage, thorough scientific checks are under way.

'Once they are completed, we will publish the results in scientific journals.'

Yuka the 'strawberry blond' woolly mammoth in Yakutsk.

Yuka the 'strawberry blond' woolly mammoth in Yakutsk. Pictures: The Siberian Times

The professor leads the SOAAM Biotech Research Foundation in South Korea and has been working closely for several years with Russian specialists at the North Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, which will host the new World Centre for Mammoth Studies.

'The second step, and further studies, are already scheduled by researchers of the university, SOOAM and the Korean National Research Group,' he revealed.

He did not put a timescale on when he hoped to see mammoths once more tromping the earth, but said: 'We continue the search for new materials and samples. We need such cell that can share information. If we could find a sample that is not only well preserved but also in which biochemical processes can take place, we will be able to impregnate it with the help of the Asian elephant materials.'

South Korean professor noted that the political leadership in Russia supports scientific achievements, and said that the interest of the head of state in mammoth studies is evident.

Hwang Woo-Suk pictured working in Yakutia.

Hwang Woo-Suk pictured working in Yakutia. Pictures: SEFU, Semyon Grigoryev, YSIA 

The head of the university's Mammoth Museum laboratory, Semyon Grigoriev, said: 'There are two options for the mammoth cloning.

'The first is through the search for active cells. The second option is artificial DNA synthesis.'

The new World Mammoth Centre 'will see progress in palaeontological studies and the final goal will get closer,' he added. 'The university is a unique place with a rigorous research team where serious studies are conducted.'

He spoke as it was confirmed that the new World Centre for Mammoth Studies will be opened at the Northeastern Federal University.

Successful cloning will be a key aim but in an intriguing move it was also revealed that tourists to Yakutsk - the world's coldest city and Russia's diamond capital -  would be invited to witness the ongoing work to bring the woolly mammoth back from the dead.

The centre is being built in partnership with the Korean Fund for Biotechnology Research. It will have underground laboratories sunk into the permafrost on which Yakutsk is built.

Semyon Grigoryev with Vladimir Putin, and Yakutsk marked on the world map.

Semyon Grigoryev with Vladimir Putin, and Yakutsk marked on the world map. Pictures: YSIA

The centre will help improve competitiveness of Russian science in the field of paleontology, said Egor Borisov, head of the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, the largest constituent of the Russian Federation. He stressed that the centre should be open to tourists from around the world.

In 2006, Hwang was dismissed by Seoul National University for faking groundbreaking work in stem cell research.

The university said Hwang had damaged its and his country's reputation. Yet he remains at the forefront of research into cloning, and he is leading research into seeking the DNA of the woolly mammoth from remains of the creatures recovered from the permafrost in the Sakha Republic. He is also working on other extinct animals such as Siberian cave lions.

The mass death of mammoths began about 20,000 to 24,000 years ago. The process continued for a long time and had a pronounced second wave of extinctions that occurred 13,000 to 15,000 years ago.

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