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South Korean researchers to clone mammoth

A private bioengineering laboratory led by disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk said Tuesday that it agreed to work together with a Russian university in cloning an extinct woolly mammoth.

The agreement with the North-Eastern Federal University calls for the use of biological samples taken from mammoth remains so they can help make a live animal using a somatic cell nuclear transfer process, the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation said.

It said the school in the Russia’s Sakha Federal Republic in northern Siberia will get permission from Moscow to ship tissue samples of the animal that went extinct 4,500 years ago. The tissues are to be cloned by using eggs taken from a modern Indian elephant.

Once the tissues of the mammoth have been treated to a nuclear transfer process, the eggs will be implanted into the womb of a live elephant for the 22-month pregnancy.

The local research foundation said it aims to complete the restoration of cells from mammoth tissues by the end of this year.

The research institute, headed by Hwang, a former veterinary professor of Seoul National University, will also take part in future mammoth remains excavations in Russia to get more tissue samples. This will entail the setting up of a mobile laboratory to extract the tissue samples, while the Russian university will be given advanced cloning technology.

“After this project, there will be further cooperation with other laboratories like the Beijing Genomics Institute,” the foundation said.

The project, if successful, will mark the first time that scientists will have cloned an extinct animal and open new possibilities for the preservation of species.

Hwang, once credited with successfully cloning human embryonic stem cells, was disgraced in 2005 after publishing a paper using manipulated test results, an incident that shook the South Korean academic society. He was given a suspended jail term in 2009 for receiving state funds with his fabricated research.

The stem cell researcher, however, made a comeback when he succeeded in cloning several dogs and endangered American jackals last year. 

(Yonhap News)