Hold on to your butts. University of Manitoba professor Kevin Campbell has ushered in an era of “virtual scientific time travel” by recreating the hemoglobin of the long extinct woolly mammoth. And if that immediately reminds you of Jurassic Park, it’s only going to get more uncanny:
Campbell and his team were able to extract DNA from three woolly mammoths preserved in the Siberian permafrost. And because mammoths are so similar to elephants, he was able to modify living elephant DNA, letter by letter, to make working mammoth genes. He inserted those genes into e. coli bacteria.
Then, Campbell says, “the e.coli simply followed the recipe” and made mammoth hemoglobin that did “everything it would have done if it had been inside a mammoth.”
That’s taken from the NPR All Things Considered story about this latest bit of science fiction. The recreation yielded some predictable but still awesome indications about the way hemoglobin delivered oxygen in the body of a mammoth, performing nimbly even as the temperature dropped. Puny humans get frostbite because we don’t have those woolly genes in action.
Most importantly, though, they took a page straight out of the Dino DNA playbook and used existing animals to fill in the blanks. Campbell concedes that the science won’t be advanced enough to resurrect an actual mammoth for some time, but at least this glorious alchemy brings us that much closer to resurrecting a T. Rex.
Here’s to you, Michael Crichton.