Like all prehistoric animals, Woolly Mammoths have been fascinating the scientific community as well as the general public pretty much ever since their discovery.
These animals lived comfortably in freezing temperatures, adapted to dark winters, didn’t mind arid environments and could even fight off Saber-Tooth Tigers. They died off roughly 10.000 years ago, but are they going to stay dead?
A team of researchers from the University of Chicago and from Penn State recently conducted a study and found the answers to several long asked questions, among which there are two standouts – “How did the Woolly Mammoth survive such extreme temperatures?” and “Could they be brought back from extinction?”. The answer to the last one is yes, of course.
For their study, published earlier this week, on Thursday (July 2, 2015), in the journal Cell Reports, the team of experts looked at DNA samples from the Ice Age creature, as well as DNA samples from their close, modern-day relatives, African Elephants and Asian Elephants.
The genetic samples for the Woolly Mammoth were taken from two specimens discovered in northeastern Siberia, one fossil being 18.500 years old, while the other is 60.000 years old.
The results showed that unlike Elephants, the prehistoric animals benefited from genes that aided them in gaining fat, developing skin and hair, tolerating harsh temperatures and evolve insulin biology.
Vincent Lynch, co-author and evolutionary biologist associated with the University of Chicago, gave a statement saying that these changes make sense because of what the researchers already knew about the species – they had long, thick hair, large fat deposits, and used to live in really cold environments. Insulin signaling played a very important role in their fat biology as insulin is responsible for regulating the amount of sugar in the blood that is converted into energy and fat.
Overall, the researchers found that there are roughly 1.600 genes which have changed their function completely when transitioning from the Woolly Mammoth to the modern-day elephant, and 26 that have lost function completely.
Then the team moved on to more pressing, innovative matters, such as resurrecting the Woolly Mammoth equivalent of the gene known as TRPV3. They transplanted it into human cells and noticed that it produced a protein which favored cold weather to warm weather.
What the most remarkable part of the project is, is that the researches have admitted it would be very easy to clone the Woolly Mammoth thanks to their comprehensive genome sequencing. They say the process should be very similar to that seen in the blockbuster Jurassic World, and that the technology is not far at all from being developed.
Webb Miller, a biologist from Penn State University, gave a statement of his own, informing that “If you want to build a woolly mammoth, we’re showing some places to start. But that had nothing to do with why we studied mammoths”.
The Woolly Mammoth fossils discovered so far in Europe, Asia and North America suggest that the animal was still roaming the Earth as early as 4.000 years ago. To this day it is unknown whether the creature died off to not being able to adapt to adapt to the warming climate, or if human hunting is what drove it into the ground.
Image Source: cecwisc.org