A comprehensive genetic analysis of the woolly mammoths provided scientists with new precious information on how the Ice Age giants survived extreme weather conditions including frigid temperatures, dryness and harsh winters.
The genetic analysis also compared genes from woolly mammoths with the genome of their distant relatives, the African and Asian elephants. Researchers claim that their analysis is the most comprehensive to date.
During their research, scientists analyzed the genetic material from two mammoths found trapped in ice somewhere in northeastern Siberia. One of the animals was 18,500 years old while the other was more than 60,000 years old, scientists suggest.
Vincent Lynch of the University of Chicago and lead-author of the mammoth study said that his team found genetic differences between the ancient animals and elephants. Mammoths had genes responsible for their unique hair and skin that protected them from the extreme environment, they also had a different way of metabolizing insulin, and they had a higher temperature tolerance than modern day elephants have.
‘We think that these changes make sense in mammoths because we know that mammoths evolved long, thick hair, large fat deposits and lived in really cold places,’
Dr. Lynch explained.
He also explained that the massive animals had different insulin biology because their bodies had to carefully regulate how much of the sugar was transformed into fat and energy.
The team also tested a mammoth gene called TRPV3 on human cells. The experiment showed that a resulting protein was less sensitive to temperature variation, indicating that the big animals were more resistant to frigid temperatures.
Woolly mammoths went extinct about 4,000 years ago. It is still unclear whether the natural climate change had something to do with it or they were simply hunted to death. Mammoth remains were found in all sorts of locations across the world including North America, Europe and Asia.
Currently the research team hopes that the genome map may help them resurrect a mammoth via cloning just like in the ‘Jurassic Park’ movie.
Nevertheless, Webb Miller one of the researchers involved in the project said that they didn’t sequenced the animal’s genome to eventually clone it. He noted that it would be easier and more “useful” to clone Roosevelt than a woolly mammoth.
Dr. Lynch believes that cloning mammoths would become “inevitable” in the near future, but nevertheless we shouldn’t do it. The researcher explained that we have no moral obligation to nature to resurrect a mammoth because we weren’t the ones responsible for its extinction.
Yet, the research aimed at resurrecting woolly mammoths is advancing rapidly. Scientists have already introduced more than a dozen of mammoth genes into the DNA of living elephants. On the other hand, other researchers warn that even if we will be able to produce a living mammoth, it may not survive in the modern day climate.