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Shades of ‘Jurassic Park’: Researchers Seek To Re-Create Woolly Mammoth

August 19, 1996

TOKYO (AP) _ What do you get if you cross a prehistoric mammoth with a modern-day elephant? A pair of researchers say they’ll get a modern mammoth.

Other scientists aren’t so sure.

Genetics specialist and veterinarian Kazufumi Goto and colleague Shoji Okutsu want to find well-preserved DNA in the sperm of a fossilized mammoth, then somehow merge it with an ovum from an elephant to produce a half-mammoth, half-elephant offspring.

Over several generations, a creature genetically close to the prehistoric mammoth could be created, Goto said.

``If successful, we may be able to revive other extinct species using the same process,″ he told Kyodo News before his departure.

Other researchers say even finding preserved DNA, let alone using it for breeding, is a very long shot. Chemical changes in fossils usually cause genetic material to waste away, even in a frozen, dry environment.

The only ancient specimens so far found to contain preserved DNA are insects trapped for millions of years in amber, the fossilized sap of ancient trees.

Goto was undaunted. ``We don’t know until we try it,″ he said.

He and Okutsu left Monday for Siberia, where they will seek Russian assistance in recovering frozen fossils of the woolly mammoth, which became extinct about 10,000 years ago.

Goto and Okutsu will travel to the western Siberian city of Yakutsk, where they were to meet Russian specialists and observe an excavation, according to a spokesman for Kagoshima University in southern Japan, where Goto is an assistant professor.

While there’s no scientific precedent for their quest, there is a model _ in fiction.

In the novel and movie ``Jurassic Park,″ scientists clone dinosaurs by extracting genetic material from dinosaur blood ingested by mosquitoes that were preserved in amber. The creatures then run amok.

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