Extinct Woolly Mammoth May Be Resurrected by Scientists

Scientists hope to impregnate an elephant with woolly mammoth cell nuclei.

Jan. 20, 2011 — -- It has been 10,000 years since prehistoric elephants roamed the earth. Now an audacious band of scientists hopes to recreate a living, breathing woolly mammoth.

"It's amazing days isn't it?" American Museum of Natural History mammal curator Ross McPhee said. "The idea that you might be able to reach back into the past and pull out the genetic code of an extinct mammal like a woolly mammoth and somehow with modern technology recreate it."

The scientists plan to extract cell nuclei from a frozen mammoth they dug up in Siberia and implant them in egg cells of the mammoth's closest living relative, the elephant. They are hoping that the elephant will give birth to a real-live woolly mammoth.

Plans to resurrect the mammoth have been in place since 1997. During three separate studies, a research team from Kinki University in Japan obtained mammoth skin and muscle tissue excavated in good condition from the permafrost in Siberia.

But they soon discovered that most nuclei in the cells were damaged by ice crystals and were unusable. So the project was abandoned, according to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbum.

Japanese researchers said in 2008 that they successfully cloned a mouse from a body that had been frozen for 16 years, which they claimed theoretically opened the door to preserving endangered animals and resurrecting extinct animals such as the woolly mammoth.

Minoru Miyashita, a professor at Kinki University, was asked last spring to join the project. He has petitioned zoos to donate elephant egg cells when their female elephants die so more research can be done.

If all goes according to plan, an elephant will be giving birth to a woolly mammoth in the next five to six years, Yomiuri Shimbum reported.

Behold, the Woolly Mammoth!

Some people think bringing this mammoth back to life is a great idea.

"It's the most adorable kind of cloning, because anything that's woolly [is] adorable," one supporter said.

Others prefer to leave the past alone and let the furry beasts rest in peace.

"It sounds to me like you're a little bit messing with the laws of nature," a skeptic told ABC News.

Even McPhee is a bit skeptical of genetic material's ability to survive after so many years.

"You can't really expect something that's 10 to 20,000 years old to have enough of its nucleus preserved," he said.

ABC News' Lauren Cox contributed to this report