The wild, but far from fanciful, project of bringing the woolly mammoth out of the deep freeze—and perhaps back to life—artfully told by Science magazine editor Stone.
Saber-toothed cats, cave lions, and the woolly mammoth exert a powerful juju over the modern imagination precisely because they are contemporaneous species, Stone suggests: We can imagine being among them far more so than we can the dinosaurs. Since the first mammoths were exhumed from the Arctic ice back in the early 19th century, they have had us tied around their tusks. Here, Stone follows the work of latter-day mammoth hunters in their quest to answer some mammoth questions: Why did they suffer extinction some 11,000 years ago, and is it possible to bring one back to life with the aid of long-dead sperm or cloning? As he explains the work of Bernard Buigues, Nikolai Vereshchagin, and Kazumufi Goto, Stone covers such new theories as the mammoths having died off as a result of a virulent pathogen akin to the Ebola virus introduced by hunters or perhaps by their dogs, as he works to explain why old notions of overhunting and climate change now seem less probable. This includes the alarming idea of unleashing ancient forms of infectious disease. But surely most incredible is the possibility of bringing the mammoth back through techniques of sperm transfer or cloning, first proposed back in 1980: taking an enucleated elephant egg and endowing it with a feasible mammoth nucleus, then zapping it with electricity to divide and grow. Yet there are other questions that arise should this cloning come to fruition, such as where the creature would live, whether its life would be worthy of the name—not to mention all the moral issues that surround cloning. Stone’s visits to the mammoth sites are rich portraits of a place and its peoples.
A lively, polished scientific detective story that continues to unfold.