Colossal Biosciences has announced a significant breakthrough in stem cell research that could propel efforts to resurrect long-extinct woolly mammoths. According to a statement shared with Live Science, Colossal’s Woolly Mammoth team has successfully derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). iPSCs, capable of transforming into any cell type in the body, provide researchers with a crucial tool to explore the genetic makeup and unique adaptations of woolly mammoths.

Eriona Hysolli, head of biological sciences and mammoth lead at Colossal Biosciences, emphasized the significance of this achievement in understanding the genetic and cellular mechanisms behind the distinctive features of woolly mammoths. iPSCs offer insights into traits such as shaggy hair, curved tusks, fat deposits, and cranial morphology that enabled mammoths to thrive in Arctic environments. Moreover, iPSCs pave the way for generating elephant sperm and egg cells in the lab, circumventing the challenges of harvesting cells from endangered Asian elephants.

Previous attempts to derive elephant iPSCs faced obstacles due to the complex gene pathway unique to these animals. However, researchers overcame this hurdle by suppressing core genes like TP53, which regulate cell growth. Hysolli explained that a multi-step process was employed to achieve iPSCs, highlighting the complexity of the endeavor.

The breakthrough not only advances woolly mammoth de-extinction efforts but also sheds light on elephant early development—a critical aspect for successful embryo implantation and gestation. Despite advancements in engineering woolly mammoth embryos, Hysolli stressed the complexity of elephant gestation, emphasizing the need for a deeper understanding of developmental biology.

Vincent Lynch, a developmental biologist at the University at Buffalo, hailed the breakthrough as an essential step toward creating woolly mammoth-like elephants. He underscored the importance of turning iPSCs into reproductive cells for in vitro fertilization and surrogacy—a challenging yet achievable goal.

Beyond woolly mammoth de-extinction, reprogramming elephant cells into iPSCs holds promise for elephant conservation efforts. By enabling the production and fertilization of reproductive cells artificially, this technology could contribute significantly to species preservation.

As Colossal’s research awaits peer review, Hysolli emphasized the potential of iPSCs in wildlife conservation. The ability to derive gametes from pluripotent stem cells opens avenues for saving endangered species, marking a significant milestone in the intersection of science and conservation.

By Impact Lab