Cloning the mammoth: how hype seduces science

Hype is a bad thing and it hurts science in major ways.

Hype channels resources away from valuable scientific pursuits and flushes them down the toilet. 

Hype makes people have unrealistic expectations so they end up disappointed by even very important science if it is not sexy enough.

What is especially troubling is when scientists themselves sell their science knowingly with heaping helpings of hype. Sometimes the journalists writing about science do this for the scientist.

In fact sometimes the science reported in the mainstream press is all hype.

mammothAs the saying goes “There’s no ‘there” there”.

A great example of this is the recently highly publicized story about scientists supposedly working on a real project to clone Wooly Mammoths.  Wooly Mammoths are those fury relatives of elephants that have been extinct for more than 4 millenia.

Part of the team is Woo-Suk Hwang who has been involved in some shady science in the past. However, he did reportedly clone the first dog, Snuppy. See picture below of Hwang with Snuppy below. Aw…cute, but how exactly has that helped anyone?

Reportedly,now this team of Korean and Russian scientists will take nuclei from a frozen mammoth bone found in permafrost in Siberia and inject it into an enucleated elephant oocyte (egg), based on the logic that elephants and mammoths are close relatives so the combo will “take” and grow into a viable embryo and then animal.

snuppyIn Jurassic Park they did this kind of hocus pocus with dinosaurs and alligators I think. It worked in the movies, right?

Call me the devil’s advocate, but this Wooly Mammoth approach ain’t gonna work. It is pure hype.

Why?

Well, first I don’t believe the mammoth cells in that deep frozen bone are really alive, which means the nuclei that they contain are useless.

You know how that steak you bought and forgot about in the freezer last year has mega freezer burn? Imagine that Mammoth bone….it has a mammoth case of freezer burn for sure after thousands of years and most if not all its cells have popped like water balloons in a thumb tack factory.

Second, I don’t believe that even if the mammoth nuclei were viable that an elephant oocyte will be compatible.

Just not close enough.

So this is a heaping mountain of hype as tall as a pile of mammoth poop must have been.

Why is this so bad?

Why am I being the grinch who stole every little kid’s (or big kid’s too) dream of bring back to life ancient, giant creatures? 

This kind of hype is very harmful because it distracts us from really important things such as research that could help people.

It also sucks away precious resources from important science.

Also, let’s assume I’m wrong and this actually works…OK, there’s a wooly mammoth. Maybe they’ll name it “Coolio” or something. Then what?

Very importantly, this kind of  science also further “normalizes” the idea of reproductive cloning, which I am very worried is inevitably going to become a reality for humans.

Sure, the kid in me thinks cloning a mammoth would be cool and maybe it would be inspiring in a way, but really what’s the point?

Have you heard the expression “jumping the shark” that arose from the TV show Happy Days? I believe it means an event that signals the beginning of the end of a TV show.

I think “Cloning the Mammoth” should be a new related idiom meaning an act of scientific hype that is harmful and comes back to bite everyone involved.

There are many examples of cloning the mammoth in science including in the stem cell field. I’ll talk about some of those in a future post and probably get myself in trouble or even blacklisted….not that that those things really happen in science, right? Yeah, sure…it never happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments


  1. I don’t want a woolly mammoth roaming the earth again, in the same way I don’t really want cloned sheep, dogs, goats, donkeys or indeed humans. It’s scary.

    Instead, can they cure cancer and some of the other minor irritations bugging us please?

    (tongue firmly in cheek).

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