From the moment cloning emerged into the public consciousness as a scientific possibility, the idea of resurrecting long-extinct creatures like dinosaurs or the dodo have seemed like tantalizing possibilities for scientists. A frequent focus of our life-giving aspirations is the woolly mammoth, which died out roughly 11,650 years ago, leaving behind many remains possibly "fresh" enough to jump-start the cloning process.
A new movie from Zürich-based director Christian Frei explores the relationship between the scientists who are furthering the genetics industry by leaps and bounds along with the "tusk hunters" who make dangerous trips to the far north looking for mammoth remains.
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The documentary explores many different sides of cloning industry to show how quickly genetics are advancing in our world. One of the films narratives, helmed by co-director Maxim Arbugaev, follows brothers Semyon and Peter Grigoriev, a paleontologist searching for a living mammoth cell and a tusk hunter looking for his next payday, as they manage to track down the full carcass of a young woolly mammoth.
Meanwhile, the film also visits a synthetic biology convention and the lab of Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk which (after becoming infamous for faking results in 2005) now clones wealthy patron's dogs for $100,000 a pop.
Barbara Streisand had her dog cloned using a similar business in Texas and, according to the film, the American DEA has ordered 17 clones of one particular pooch who was (in life) especially good at sniffing out cocaine.
Frei isn't too hopeful about science's chances of cloning a mammoth even once scientists have obtained the full carcass from his documentary:
"I don't really see that the chances are so big of finding a living cell after 28,000 years."
With a tongue-in-cheek, however, the director does mention that one particular country is more than ready for a cloned mammoth, if one is ever possible: Russia.
"They already have a park. Putin is a big friend of this project, because of tourism. Everybody wants to see a woolly mammoth."
Frei believes people's eagerness to revive the woolly mammoth may be misplaced:
"Nobody wants the dinosaurs back, because we've all seen 'Jurassic Park.' But everybody wants the woolly mammoth back, because of 'Ice Age'! They have this reputation of being cute. Which is absurd."
The director is no stranger to topical, scientific documentaries, having produced movies on space tourism and war photography before heading back into the ice age.
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When releasing his movie, Frei also wanted to be sure his outlook on the future wasn't too bleak! After all, a month ago, Chinese Scientists claimed to have modified a baby in-utero using the genetic tool CRISPR, which could have huge implications for mankind's ability to treat disease or modify genetic conditions before a baby is even born. He commented:
"Synthetic biology is the next revolution. Not all of it will be horrible, at all."
Here's to the future, everybody!
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