Cloning mammoths may lead directly to prehistoric zombie apocalypse

It only looks like a nice experiment in lost-species rescue

Credit: rspongaj

Royal BC Museum, Victoria, British Columbia.

Here's an excellent idea that hasn't ever been illustrated as a catastrophic example of scientific hubris in a series of incredibly popular action-horror movies in which people innocently sitting in the john are savagely eaten by giant prehistoric things with big teeth:

A researcher at Kyoto University has announced plans to clone, produce and raise a wooly mammoth of a species that died out more than 5,000 years ago, then do it again, enough times to create a kind of Ice-Age version of Jurassic Park, probably without all the screaming and running.

There's some debate about the project. It may not be a mammoth, for one thing. The clone would come from the carcass of something large and furry dug from the permafrost in Siberia and preserved in a Russian lab for the past decade.

The group of Japanese scientists on the cloning team -- led in the mammoth-making effort by Akira Iritani of Kinki University's School of Biology Oriented Science and Technology -- think the cells are actually from more of a wooly rhinoceros sort of thing.

They'll use techniques demonstrated successfully on live cows and dead mice -- in this case injecting the mammoth/rhino DNA into the egg of an elephant to breed a hybrid mammoth/rhino/elephant/tentacled beast of the apocalypse.

In this context, people may dismiss Godzilla movies as cultural stereotypes that were metaphors for Western conquest and the death of an ancient social order, not specific warnings about the immediate danger of reviving extinct giant monsters.

But if you haven't, you should go watch a Godzilla movie and absorb the specific warnings about the immediate danger of reviving extinct giant monsters who can then eat you and stomp on your house.

If they're anywhere close to my age, Iritani and his coterie of monster-revivers must have heard those warnings and are irresponsibly ignoring them to further a clear scientific and possibly political agenda.

However dangerous his plan, Iritani sounds like a reasonable guy, who says the kinds of things you might hear from a neighbor or colleague you would trust with the key to the door behind which lie ancient horrors.

"The most important thing is to find a good carcass," said Iritani, a leading member of the Creation of Mammoth Association, who doesn't think it's odd that a there is a group called The Creation of Mammoth Association .

The mammoths and any other extinct animals Iritani raises will live on an area of Siberian tundra twice the size of Japan that is uninhabited by humans and whose working name is Pleistocene Park.

The park, which will ultimately be named after the first human victims of the new species, will be created sometime after the first mammoths are born in about five years, Iritani predicted.

Mammoths aren't the only things being cloned, of course.

The first animal to be cloned was a British sheep named Dolly. Spanish scientists have cloned a recently extinct species of mountain goat called a Pyrenean Ibex.

Successful clones have also been made of carp, cats, monkeys, rabbits, deer, wolf, dogs and every Top-40 artist since 1983.

Not all have been inveterate maneaters, though some people object to cloning on less important grounds as well.

Others say mammoths and wooly rhinos were herbivores that wouldn't crush and devour human cities even if they had the chance, and that cloning dinosaurs is too difficult to even worry about as a threat.

To these I say: Shut up.

These people have obviously not paid enough attention to monster movies. Or to the course of scientific research.

Once, Neanderthals were considered to have been savage, subhuman thuggish apes whom our own species avoided completely until the elder race died of loneliness and depression.

Or we slaughtered them all. One or the other.

Turns out there was a lot more fraternization than scientists ever told us was going on, at least while I was paying attention in school, and that human eyesight was either really bad, or beer goggles were invented much earlier than previously thought.

With turnarounds like that in knowledge about things our ancestors slept with, how much more radical could be changes in our understanding of mammoths which, if you remember the rest of your ice age history, humans and Neanderthals slaughtered every chance they got, and which might still be pissed off about it.

Herbivore or not, a pissed off mammoth is not the kind of thing you want to deal with on a pleasant vacation to an uninhabited stretch of Siberia.

All of which has nothing at all to do with IT, unless a rampaging mammoth crashes into your data center and eats your sysadmins. Most of them wouldn't notice, anyway; the sysadmins, I mean. They'd think it was just a really hi-def World of Warcraft moment.

And, except for the mammoths, there's nothing to indicate anything particularly arcane or disastrous is coming to get us from the depths of our past.

Actually it's all kind of cool project. So are other Ice Age investigations like the one that revealed what anthropologists have recently deduced about clothing and our ancient ancestors, until you find out how they know.

It's cool until you think about all the other odd things going on, like the record set last week, when there was snow on the ground in every state of the union except Florida, which it avoided because of the alligators.

And that these hats -- which violate every law of fashion those of us lacking the metrosexual gene have had to memorize and follow by rote since we were teenagers -- are incredibly popular, despite warnings through our post-pubescent lives that wearing them was only permissible while playing the dumb guy in a movie in which Larry the Cable Guy is the smart one.

Or that Ice Age is a musical style young people too hip to use the word "hip" go to underground clubs to hear.

With tablets replacing PCs, the Cloud replacing networks, augmented reality replacing ordinary reality and Steve Jobs leaving Apple for health reasons for the third time, it just seems everything is upside down. The obvious risk in disturbing the past is that it could come back -- in the form of zombie carnivorous mammoths from hell -- rested and ravenous from its time in the permafrost.

Luckily it's pretty clear that zombie mammoth attacks are just a paranoid fantasy caused by hypoglycemia or spending too much time in meetings with people waving uncapped, giant dry-erase markers whose outgas is a little too psychotropic for most serious discussions.

There are no omens of an impending apocalypse or mysterious disaster, no matter what the dead (mammoths) rising from their graves is supposed to portend. You can just relax.

Like me.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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