The Woolly Mammoth Revival Fellowship

ANNOUNCEMENT POSTED MARCH 02, 2021

REVIEW THE APPLICATION PROCESS

Description of the Opportunity

Revive & Restore is pleased to announce a post-doctoral fellowship opportunity for well-qualified individuals interested in a full-time appointment researching the science underlying Woolly Mammoth de-extinction in the laboratory of Dr. George Church at Harvard Medical School. This fellowship is fully supported by Revive & Restore, the leading non-profit organization working to bring biotechnologies to wildlife conservation. The fellowship will include the following benefits:

  • 1-year renewable post-doctoral fellowship
  • Harvard Medical School will serve as the host institution and administer the fellowship
  • $75,000 annual gross salary and stipendee postdoc benefits
  • $25,000 per year for research materials and access to complementary Promega supplies
  • Revive & Restore sponsorship and project management
  • The opportunity to conduct pioneering work on de-extinction technology

Eligibility Requirements

  • Eligible applicants must have a PhD in molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, or related discipline;
  • Less than 2 years prior post-doctoral experience;
  • Expertise in cell culture, stem cells, gene editing techniques, and/or mammalian developmental biology;
  • Be creative, self-driven, organized, a clear communicator, and possess excellent time management skills;
  • Demonstrated ability to work towards specific milestones and goals;
  • An interest in genetic rescue applications of biotechnology

Background Information

The tundra and much of the taiga were once a grassland ecosystem known as the “mammoth steppe.” It was home to abundant grazing herds of Woolly Mammoths, antelope, deer, caribou, horses, and bison. At the end of the Pleistocene these herds vanished leading to an ecosystem conversion away from abundant grasses toward a more shrub dominated community.

The tundra ecosystem that arose in the absence of these large grazing species is now affected by and contributing to human-driven climate change. Without large animals to compact and scrape away thick insulating layers of winter snow, extreme winter cold does not penetrate the soil. That fact, coupled with significantly warmer summers, accelerates the melting of the permafrost and the release of greenhouse gases that have been trapped for millennia. From a global carbon perspective, the carbon release from melting of the world’s permafrost is equivalent to burning all the world’s forests 2 ½ times.

The work of Dr. Sergey Zimov shows that tundra can be converted back to grasslands with the introduction of grazers even 10,000 years after their disappearance. The introduction of grazers to tundra generates a nutrient cycle that allows grasses to out-compete the tundra flora, converting the ecosystem in a manner that then favors the persistence of grazers and grasses. Not only do arctic grasslands support higher biodiversity and abundance, there is evidence that the grazing, compaction and disturbance effects of these larger herbivores enables the deeper freezing of the permafrost during the winter months. The grasses then insulate the permafrost from melting during summer months – further preventing the release of greenhouse gases.

Research suggests grasslands sequester carbon from the atmosphere more efficiently than other ecosystems. The grazing cycle’s multi-dimensional climate dynamics offers a potentially powerful tool for fostering resilience in the face of human-driven climate change.

Breakthrough advances in genomic biotechnology are presenting the possibility of bringing back long-extinct species — or at least “proxy” species with traits and ecological functions similar to the extinct originals.

The Woolly Mammoth has emerged as a leading candidate for this work. It can be attempted because a close relative of the mammoth is still living—the Asian elephant. Thanks to the similarity of their genomes, the genes of woolly mammoth traits can be edited into the Asian elephant genome, and the combination brought to life as an elephant cousin, once again adapted to the conditions of the far north.

The ultimate goal of Woolly Mammoth Revival is to bring back this extinct species so that healthy herds may one-day re-populate vast tracts of tundra and boreal forest in Eurasia and North America. The intent is not to make perfect copies of extinct Woolly Mammoths, but to focus on the mammoth adaptations needed for Asian elephants to thrive in the cold climate of the Arctic. The milestones along the way range from developing elephant tissue cultures to genome editing and most importantly, developing insights that help with Asian elephant conservation.

The Woolly Mammoth Revival team headed by George Church is working to identify cold climate adapted alleles of the mammoth genome and edit them into living elephant cells. From there, the team will study the expression of Woolly Mammoth mutations to test predictions about gene function. Specifically, how does evolution shape the same gene to be adapted to tropical habitats in one lineage, while adapting an alternate version of that gene to cold habitats? Not only does this research build the foundations of mammoth de-extinction, it provides potentially valuable insight to evolution for different climate conditions. These insights may demonstrate techniques to apply genetic biotechnologies to facilitate adaptation for wildlife threatened by climate change.

Application Process

Interested applicants should send a cover letter, CV, and contact information for three professional references to Revive & Restore (bridget AT reviverestore.org). Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until a qualified candidate is selected. An initial review will be conducted based on past research experience and overall fit. Additional information on Mammoth project specifics will be provided by Dr. Church to applicants that pass the first round of screening. Finalists will be asked to develop a 1-yr project plan for first year of fellowship with guidance from Revive & Restore. Fellow(s) will be selected based on project plan approval by Revive & Restore and Dr. Church. The fellowship can be iteratively renewed at the end of each year for up to 3 years.