Dr. George Church is a real-life Dr. Frankenstein. The inventor of CRISPR and one of the minds behind the Human Genome Project is no longer content just reading and editing DNA—now he wants to make new life. In Ben Mezrich’s latest book, Wooly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures, Church and his Harvard lab try to do the impossible, and clone an extinct Woolly mammoth back into existence.
Mezrich, author of the books that would become the feature films 21 and The Social Network, seems to have graduated from college to a bioengineering PhD with his latest work, which is chock-full of scientific explanation detailing every aspect of the Church lab’s efforts to rewrite the DNA of an elephant to look like a wooly mammoth.
But Mezrich is even more interested in telling the stories of the people trying to make the mammoth a reality, dramatizing the lives of Church, his wife, Harvard Professor Dr. Ting Wu, their fellow scientists, researchers working for a competing cloning lab in Korea, and the conservationists at the Siberian preserve where the mammoths will finally reside. While at times his predictions feel too good to be true, Mezrich’s prose rarely fails to engage.
Gizmodo sat down with Mezrich to talk about a few of the themes present in his book, as well as the future of de-extinction and scientific breakthroughs in general. Below is a lightly edited and condensed version of the interview.