New documentary explores "How to Clone a Woolly Mammoth"

Paleobiologist Tori Herridge of London's Natural History Museum joins "CBS This Morning" to discuss the research
Paleobiologist Tori Herridge of London's Natu... 04:58

The remains of the mammoth, nicknamed Buttercup, are the subject of a new Smithsonian Channel documentary, "How to Clone a Woolly Mammoth." The female mammoth, who walked the earth 40,000 years ago, was found on an island in northern Siberia in 2013. The one-hour special airing Saturday follows scientists as they seek to understand the secrets behind Ice Age mammoths.

"When they were trying to excavate out the carcass, they cut into the flesh ... this red fluid started to ooze out of it," Dr. Tori Herridge, a paleobiologist at the Natural History Museum in London said on "CBS This Morning." "You found this ancient beast that humans haven't seen walking the world for 10,000 years, or there abouts, and then there's something that looks like blood coming out of it, I mean I'd have run a mile.

Much of the hype surrounding the discovery is because of a red-blood like substance found in the remains. While the fluid is not blood, hemoglobin in the liquid gives it its red appearance.

"Then they thought, 'Okay, maybe we've got some flowing blood, maybe the blood so well preserved, then what does that mean for things like DNA and stuff like that?'" Herridge said.

But for cloning, it's the flesh and the muscle tissues that are important for scientists.

"There's a group in South Korea who are trying to clone a mammoth using the material from this mammoth Buttercup," Herridge said. "There's also a group in the U.S. who are doing something a bit different they're trying to create, if you like, a new type of animal - a synthetic Asian elephant - that maybe might look like a mammoth."

Thanks to the incredibly well-kept state of the remains, the scientists were also able to predict a great deal about the animal's life.

"You can learn so much from animal -- by looking at its teeth, we could see that she was in her 50s when she died," she said. "but then we started to get inside her, her abdomen, her stomach area -- I had my hands on 40,000 year old mammoth liver, and there were these strange white stones in them."

Since elephants and mammoths don't have gallbladders like humans, Herridge and her team were able to determine that the mysterious white stones were likely bile stones that gathered in the liver. They concluded the mammoth was therefore not well when she fell into the bog and was subsequently eaten by predators.

But ethical and practical matters of cloning the ancient animal remain.

"We have to start asking ourselves the questions, 'Is this something should be doing, as well as the fact that we could do it? Do we actually want it? What could the legacy of this be?' Herridge said. "My personal feeling is, at the moment there doesn't seem to be a way of doing this without involving an Asian elephant and I can't see justifying experimenting on those."