No, the wooly mammoth won't actually be resurrected by 2019

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Efforts to bring back a mammoth are underway, but they're going to take some time.

If you had dreams of riding a wooly mammoth through 2019 after reading headlines this week that 'Wooly mammoth will be back from extinction within two years', you might want to change your plans. It's not going to happen.

Multiple teams of researchers are trying to bring back a wooly mammoth, but it would be disingenuous to imply that the beasts will be roaming the tundra 24 months from now.

What started this furor was an update from one of those teams at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston.

"Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo," Harvard's George Church told The Guardian. "Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We're not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years."

Check out these wooly mammoth fossils:

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: Brett Crawford (top) and Matt Fair as carefully deconstruct the vertabrae of a Wooly Mammoth skeleton at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC on October 20, 2014. It's all part of an overall renovation of the museum's Fossil Halls. All of the dinosaur skeletons are being disassembled, refurbished and repositioned and will reappear at the Smithsonian museum in 2019. This dinosaur exhibit has been on display since the late 70's / early 80's. The Mammoth skeleton is a combination of bones of several Mammoths found in Alaska; some dating back to 1930's. Any parts that were missing or damaged were filled in with a wax/wood substance. The crew from Research Casting International will ship the skeleton to Canada where it will undergo refurbishing, repositioning and then returned to the museum for the new exhibit. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: Paleo Biology curator Matthew Carrano near the foot of a Wooly Mammoth skeleton being deconstructed at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC on October 20, 2014. It's all part of an overall renovation of the museum's Fossil Halls. All of the dinosaur skeletons are being disassembled, refurbished and repositioned and will reappear at the Smithsonian museum in 2019. This dinosaur exhibit has been on display since the late 70's / early 80's. The Mammoth skeleton is a combination of bones of several Mammoths found in Alaska; some dating back to 1930's. Any parts that were missing or damaged were filled in with a wax/wood substance. The crew from Research Casting International will ship the skeleton to Canada where it will undergo refurbishing, repositioning and then returned to the museum for the new exhibit. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: Peter May lays down the foot bones of a Wooly Mammoth skeleton being deconstructed at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC on October 20, 2014. It's all part of an overall renovation of the museum's Fossil Halls. All of the dinosaur skeletons are being disassembled, refurbished and repositioned and will reappear at the Smithsonian museum in 2019. This dinosaur exhibit has been on display since the late 70's / early 80's. The Mammoth skeleton is a combination of bones of several Mammoths found in Alaska; some dating back to 1930's. Any parts that were missing or damaged were filled in with a wax/wood substance. The crew from Research Casting International will ship the skeleton to Canada where it will undergo refurbishing, repositioning and then returned to the museum for the new exhibit. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: Portion of the jaw bone, with worn down molars, of a Wooly Mammoth skeleton being deconstructed at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC on October 20, 2014. It's all part of an overall renovation of the museum's Fossil Halls. All of the dinosaur skeletons are being disassembled, refurbished and repositioned and will reappear at the Smithsonian museum in 2019. This dinosaur exhibit has been on display since the late 70's / early 80's. The Mammoth skeleton is a combination of bones of several Mammoths found in Alaska; some dating back to 1930's. Any parts that were missing or damaged were filled in with a wax/wood substance. The crew from Research Casting International will ship the skeleton to Canada where it will undergo refurbishing, repositioning and then returned to the museum for the new exhibit. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: View of an exhibit rendering of prehistoric mammals, among them a Wooly Mammoth (top right), whose skeleton was deconstructed today at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC on October 20, 2014. It's all part of an overall renovation of the museum's Fossil Halls. All of the dinosaur skeletons are being disassembled, refurbished and repositioned and will reappear at the Smithsonian museum in 2019. This dinosaur exhibit has been on display since the late 70's / early 80's. The Mammoth skeleton is a combination of bones of several Mammoths found in Alaska; some dating back to 1930's. Any parts that were missing or damaged were filled in with a wax/wood substance. The crew from Research Casting International will ship the skeleton to Canada where it will undergo refurbishing, repositioning and then returned to the museum for the new exhibit. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: (top) Crews remove an ulna and humerus of a Wooly Mammoth skeleton being deconstructed at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC on October 20, 2014. It's all part of an overall renovation of the museum's Fossil Halls. All of the dinosaur skeletons are being disassembled, refurbished and repositioned and will reappear at the Smithsonian museum in 2019. This dinosaur exhibit has been on display since the late 70's / early 80's. The Mammoth skeleton is a combination of bones of several Mammoths found in Alaska; some dating back to 1930's. Any parts that were missing or damaged were filled in with a wax/wood substance. The crew from Research Casting International will ship the skeleton to Canada where it will undergo refurbishing, repositioning and then returned to the museum for the new exhibit. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: Colleene Rowley (cqd) encases and secures in foam the bones of a Wooly Mammoth skeleton after deconstruction at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC on October 20, 2014. It's all part of an overall renovation of the museum's Fossil Halls. All of the dinosaur skeletons are being disassembled, refurbished and repositioned and will reappear at the Smithsonian museum in 2019. This dinosaur exhibit has been on display since the late 70's / early 80's. The Mammoth skeleton is a combination of bones of several Mammoths found in Alaska; some dating back to 1930's. Any parts that were missing or damaged were filled in with a wax/wood substance. The crew from Research Casting International will ship the skeleton to Canada where it will undergo refurbishing, repositioning and then returned to the museum for the new exhibit. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The frozen carcass of a 39,000-year-old female woolly mammoth named Yuka from the Siberian permafrost is displayed for an exhibition in Yokohama, suburban Tokyo on July 12, 2013 at a press preview before the opening. The carcass will be shown to the public during an exhibition at Pacifico Yokohama from July 13 to September 16. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
File photo dated 23/09/14 of James Rylands, Auctioneer and Director of Summers Place Auctions in West Sussex, preparing the skeleton of an Ice Age Woolly Mammoth, which could fetch £250,000 when it is auctioned today.
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The key word there is embryo. Church's team—the Wooly Mammoth Revival project—is using CRISPR gene-editing technology to put genetic traits collected from frozen mammoth corpses into Asian elephant DNA.

So far, they've managed to incorporate traits of the mammoth's ears, fat, and hair into elephant DNA. In a few years they hope to make an embryo, but that's a long way from creating a viable embryo. A viable embryo would have to be able to survive long enough to move from a Petri dish to some kind of womb—and then it would have to grow into a healthy calf that the team could successfully deliver and raise.

Artificial gestation is considered the most likely option for any viable embryo, because Asian elephants, the closest living relatives of mammoths, are currently endangered. Church has created an artificial womb capable of gestating a mouse embryo for 10 days but that's a far cry from the 660-day gestation period of an elephant calf.

So while an embryo may indeed be possible by 2019, there's no telling how many years would stretch between that milestone and the actual reintroduction of the woolly mammoth. Researchers have already created embryos of chickens with dinosaur snouts, for example, and those dino-chickens aren't clucking around a co-op. The first attempts to make a living mammoth are many more years away.

And it's important to remember that no one is actually going to bring mammoths back. The manufactured embryo will not be an exact replica of the mammoths that roamed the earth around 4,000 years ago. It will be an elephant manipulated to be more mammoth-like, and it will be something entirely new—a 'mammophant'.

With so many animals going extinct it makes sense that the idea of de-extinction captures public attention. But the easiest way to remedy the loss of an entire species isn't to try to rebuild it from frozen samples or create artificial copies. It's to prevent them from going extinct in the first place.

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