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There's been a lot of talk and research interest around the possibility of resurrecting certain groups of organisms (or, at least their genomes) from extinction, with Woolly Mammoths being prime candidates for such an endeavor. But what about a closely related group, like the Mastodons? What's the criteria for possible 'de-extinction'? SO MANY QUESTIONS.
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You know you love to read articles as much as I do:
"'De-extinction' of the woolly mammoth: A step closer." Washington Post

"Mastodon genome sheds light on human evolution," New Scientist

"Mammoth and Mastodon Teeth and Museums," Universities Space Research Association

'Mammuthus exilis from the California Channel Islands: Height, Mass, and Geologic Age," Institute for Wildlife Studies

"The Pygmy Mammoth," National Park Service

"The island rule in large mammals: paleontology meets ecology," International Journal of Organic Evolution

"American mastodon extirpation in the Arctic and Subarctic predates human colonization and terminal Pleistocene climate change," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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There's a lot of buzz in the news about de-extinction.

With the growing interest in technologies and research, that could possibly bring animals and plants back from being, well, extinct. One of the candidates high on that list is the woolly mammoth.

They're the closest relatives to our living Asian elephants today, and only widely disappeared about 10,000 years ago. With some isolated populations hanging on until about 4,700 years ago. That may seem like a long time, but at that period in the not-so-distant past, glass was being invented and the great pyramids of Giza were being built.

So, really, it's a blip in the scheme of things. Since woolly mammoth's genetic information has been so well preserved in the permafrost, where recent specimens have been discovered, scientists have been able to sequence their genomes and now different groups are trying to figure out a way to insert mammoth genes into living elephant cells and maybe, in a way, bring them back. But my question is, why mammoths?

Why not, say, mastodons? No, not the heavy metal group, the late miocene megafauna. Modern day elephants, mammoths and mastodons are all in the order proboscidea, along with other extinct tusked creatures, like palaeomastodons and gomphotheres.

From the outside, mammoths and mastodons may look pretty similar, but they've been different for a very long time. About 25 million years. Mastodons were on Earth long before the mammoths, who showed up a little late to the Pleistocene party about 20 million years later.

So you couldn't hope to have good luck splicing mastodon DNA into the Asian elephant genome. That's like putting human cells into a gibbon. It wouldn't work because the two are too genetically different.

In addition to genetic differences between mammoths and mastodons, they're also morphologically different. This is most obviously seen in their teeth. Mammoths have large, flat, grinding surfaces on top of their molars, whereas mastodons have giant, mountain-like cusps.

These cusps even inspired their scientific name, from the Greek word "masto" for "breast" and "odon" for "tooth." Literally breast tooth. The shape of their teeth gives us clues about their diets, too. Mammoths were grazers, like cows and elephants today and as such, they have flat grinding surfaces on their teeth for breaking down grasses.

Mastodons were browsers, like goats. The bulbous cusps on their teeth were useful for breaking down sticks and shrubs. So, remember, mammoths: cows.

Matsodons: breast-toothed goats. In addition to differences in their dentition, mastodons were shorter stockier than mammoths with smaller ears, but there were some exceptions. Mammoths and mastodons are in two different genera, Mammut and Mammuthus.

There were four different mastodon species and ten different species of mammoth. You're probably most familiar with the woolly mammoth but there was also a pygmy species, the dwarf mammoth, which was about as tall as I am. This species was found on the Channel Islands off of California and its small size was most likely result of island dwarfism.

This can happen when a large species gets isolated on an island, since smaller animals require fewer food resources, and in the absence of predators, small animals tend to breed more quickly than their larger counterparts. As to how they got to the island, how else? They swam!

Elephants today are great long-distance swimmers with their built-in snorkels and buoyant mass. Smelling delicious grasses from mainland California, a group of Columbian mammoths departed the coast, swimming out into the ocean towards the smell. Fast forward 30,000 years and congratulations!

Almost puppy sized mammoths. While there isn't yet a conclusive answer as to what caused the extinction for both mammoths and mastodons in the last 10,000 years, whether it was from over-hunting by humans or climate related changes, a few questions remain. If we can resurrect the mammoth genome, should we?

And where would we put them?