The wooly booly on evolution


Here is a list of things the world needs:

1. Renewable energy that is clean, cheap, domestic, safe, and doesn’t chop up migratory birds. 2. Rewarding, meaningful work for everyone. 3. The return of the wooly mammoth. Didn’t see that number three coming, did you? While it might not make your personal inventory of items that we can’t do without, it made someone’s. Someone with too much time on their hands.

A company named Colossal Biosciences has that time. Their mission is to, and I quote, “Create a cold-resistant elephant that closely resembles its ancient ancestor in form and function.” Lest we all think they are Colossal Whack-a-doodles, the people there cite a scientific reason for re-introducing the wooly mammoth. It has to do with how the appearance of the northern reaches has changed since the wooly mammoth quit eating grasses or trees. I forget which. All I can remember is, when the mammoth went extinct, whichever thing they were eating took over the landscape to the detriment of the other. Ain’t it always the way?

Earth science 101 tells us that at the end of the latest ice age, 11,000 years ago, the earth warmed (but not at the pace it is today, fueled by cars and factories, mind you). Suitable habitat for the mammoth shrunk. There was less food. Plus — here’s a surprise — a ravenous biped called man started hunting them. There is some speculation that Neanderthals went extinct for the same reason. Anyway, our ancestors apparently found out that wooly mammoth were at least as toothsome as Neanderthals so both their fates were sealed.

I keep thinking there is a more efficient way to return the landscape of the north to its original composition than to recreate a behemoth. Not that I have anything against a behemoth. Some of my best friends are behemoths. But the scientists at Colossal Biosciences, who have either skewed priorities or a fantastic source of funding or a desire to be in the Guinness Book of World Record Bad Ideas or all three, are going to do it the hard way.

You have to admire their around-the-curve thinking. They want to stop the destruction of the permafrost. The permafrost is in danger of melting because the cover has disappeared, causing it to become a wet tundra. If it were, instead, a dry grassland, this would better hold onto carbon and reflect sunlight which would keep the permafrost more permanently frosty.

In the scheme of things, saving some permafrost seems as though it wouldn’t make even a mammoth-sized dent in climate change but who am I to harsh their buzz? All they need is to: 1. Re-create wooly mammoth DNA 2. “Fill in the gaps” with elephant DNA 3. Create a fake womb for the gestation. I swear I am not making this up. Apparently, a regular elephant womb isn’t good enough. They’re seriously thinking about constructing a fake uterus to carry to the almost-newly un-extinct mammoth.

Let’s say they’re successful. Let’s say the permafrost is re-populated with giant, hairy animals on whom the onus of reversal of climate change is hung. You know and I know it is only a matter of time until some “sportsman” gets the great idea of having a wooly mammoth safari so a fake sportsman can kill a fake mammoth. It’s so 2023! Hunt them to extinction and then start the cycle all over again until someone says, “Hey. This is stupid.”

Another plausible outcome is wooly mammoth farming. I can see it now. Herds of wooly mammoths brough south to populate the Great Plains. There they can graze peacefully until it’s time to turn them into McMammoth sandwiches. At which point we start eating them again.

Isn’t science wonderful?

Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for Miami Valley Today

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