Woolly Mammoth’s roamed the Earth just over 4,000 years ago, living lives similar – but much colder – to the modern-day elephants, of which the Asian Elephant is the closest living descendant.
According to fossil records, the woolly mammoth was a commonly found animal during the last ice age. Interestingly, mammoth fossils have been discovered on every continent except South America and Australia – Not yet anyway?
When compared to the common elephant they were similar in size, but had adapted individual characteristics to live in the extreme cold weather of the ice age. Mammoths had narrower skulls, smaller ears and shorter tails and perhaps the most obvious difference between them and elephants was that woolly mammoths were covered in a full coat of hair. Scientist in Japan have managed to bring back Woolly Mammoth cells back to life, which means the prehistoric giants could soon be back and plodding about just like they were during the ice age.
The scientists in Japan claim to have taken a “significant step” towards bringing the extinct species back to life, after they transplanted cells extracted from the carcass of a mammoth into a mouse, where they subsequently recorded positive biological activity.
The cells were taken from the 28,000-year-old mummified remains of a well preserved woolly mammoth, named Yuka, found in Siberian permafrost in 2010. The extinct animal was between seven to eight years old when it died, and is one the best preserved mammoths known to science.
The team, based in Osaka’s Kindai University, extracted the prehistoric beast’s bone marrow as well as muscle tissues and injected them into mouse ovaries, triggering “signs of biological activity” and the forming of structures that often precedes cell division, according a study published Tuesday in Scientific Reports journal.
While the actual development of a live specimen remains a distant possibility, researcher Kei Miyamoto, a co-author of the study, told the Nikkei Asian Review that the achievement marks “a significant step towards bringing mammoths back from the dead.”
“We want to move our study forward to the stage of cell division,” he added while acknowledging that “we still have a long way to go” before the species is revived in full.
The team had previously attempted to use a nuclear transfer to spark similar activity in the cells of a different mammoth’s genetic material to no avail, “possibly owing to the technological limitations at that time and the inappropriate state of the frozen mammoth tissues.”
However, the uncontaminated nature of Yuka’s remains–which were preserved in pristine condition in the Siberian permafrost until their discovery in August 2010–have allowed the joint Japanese-Russian team to collect 88 nucleus-like structures from the animal.
It is thought that Woolly mammoths roamed East Asia throughout the Ice Age before rising temperatures, dwindling food supplies and human hunting rendered the huge-tusked, six-ton beast extinct.
The scientists are hopeful that their work can shed light on what contributed to the wooly mammoths’ extinction, noting in their report:
“Our work provides a platform to evaluate the biological activities of nuclei in extinct animal species… Ancient species carry invaluable information about the genetic basis of adaptive evolution and factors related to extinction.”
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