Last summer, researchers plucked skin and muscle tissue from an ancient mammoth's carcass that was found preserved under permafrost in Siberia. A nearly complete body of one of the animals was found there and has since been kept in a special freezer in a Russian research lab.
Researchers from Japan's Kinki University have found a way to isolate DNA from the frozen mammoth's tissue. Now they plan to insert that DNA into the egg cells of a normal, modern African elephant and then plant the resulting embryo into the elephant's womb.
Elephants are the closest contemporary relative to ancient woolly mammoths, which are believed to have died out during the last Ice Age. Zoos across Japan were asked to donate their female elephants' eggs, harvested from the animals when they died.
After a 600-day gestation period, the elephant would give birth to a baby mammoth. That baby would be a clone of that frozen mammoth found in the Siberian tundra and believed to have died more than 10,000 years ago. The baby would not have any genetic relation to the surrogate mother that actually gives birth to it.
The whole process will take about five years to complete. It'll be about two years before a mammoth embryo is ready to be planted into the surrogate elephant, the lead Japanese researcher, Akira Iritani, told London's Daily Telegraph.
Russian and American scientists are also assisting on the project, with Russian archaeologists providing the mammoth tissue samples and U.S. in vitro fertilization experts helping to create the mammoth embryo, CNN reported.
In 2008, biologists at another Japanese institute succeeded in cloning a mouse from cells of another mouse that had been kept in a deep freeze for 16 years. It was the first such achievement in the world, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
Iritani told the newspaper that he and his colleagues are still discussing whether to put the baby mammoth on display to the public, if their experiment is successful.
"After the mammoth is born, we'll examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors," he said.