Japanese Researchers Are One Step Closer to Resurrecting Woolly Mammoths
Scientists in Japan believe that they have moved closer to bringing the extinct woolly mammoth back to life. Researchers from Kindai University in Osaka have found some genetic material that they hope can help them to resurrect the mammoth some 4000 years after they last roamed the earth. This is all thanks to advances in genetics and if the scientists are correct then we may have the chance to once again to see these Ice Age creatures.
The woolly mammoth is an extinct species of trunked mammals and they were related to modern elephants. They emerged in Africa and from there they spread all over Eurasia and North America during the last Ice Age. They became extinct, possibly because of climate change, overhunting, or disease, or a combination of all three. The last of the species lived until 4000 years ago on an island in the Arctic Circle. Many remains of these beasts have been found frozen in the permafrost of the Tundra in Siberia.
A Mammoth Called Yuka
Among the mammoth remains found was that of the near-intact body of a female, complete with fur, who has been christened Yuka, who is estimated to be 28,000 years old. The long-dead mammoth was unearthed in Siberia in 2010. She was seven years old when she died and was ten feet tall (3.5 meters). According to Asahi Shimbun, the specimen “has been kept in good condition”.
Yuka's skull and lower jaw as shown at Frozon Woolly Mammoth Yuka Exhibit in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The condition of the woolly mammal allowed an international team of researchers to look for genetic material. This team was led by Akira Iritani, a professor emeritus at Kindai University and they were seeking to extract live tissues from the mammoth. The Telegraph reported that the team “extracted bone marrow and muscle tissue” from the legs of the dead female mammoth, which contained cells. According to the Independent “88, nucleus-like structures were collected from the muscle sample” and they were very well-preserved. The experts proved that the cells were those of the trunked mammal by using the Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) technique.
A Step Nearer Bringing the Woolly Mammoth Back to Life
The researchers were excited by the successful extraction of the cells. They then injected the “cell nuclei from the extinct woolly mammoth’s muscle tissue into mouse cell eggs” according to the Independent. The scientists injected the genetic material into mouse egg cells because they could help the nuclei to divide and multiply.
The researchers later observed with great excitement signs of biological activity. There were signs of potential cell division and “a pronucleus like structure” was detected according to the Independent. The Japanese team believes that they have taken the first steps in bringing the extinct species back from the dead. However, they have cautioned that there is a need for much more research and many more procedures and success cannot be taken for granted.
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Scientists injected the cell nuclei from the extinct woolly mammoth’s muscle tissue into mouse cell eggs and there were even signs of potential cell division in an attempt to resurrect the mammoth species. (Luk Cox / Adobe)
Reviving the mammoth would require getting cells to divide and multiply and the team did not achieve this challenging process. If they can divide the cells this will allow them to begin cloning the genetic materials of the Ice Age giants. This is theoretically possible, and it would enable them to resurrect a species that died out over 4 millennia ago.
A Scientific Race
The Japanese team is not alone in trying to revive the long-extinct species and there is at present a scientific race to bring the woolly mammoths back to life. There is a similar effort to clone the genetic material of a dead mammoth in South Korea, Europe, and America, researchers are using gene-editing methods to bring the trunked mammals back from extinction. However, it may be some time before the world witnesses the re-birth of the species and indeed it may not be scientifically possible.
Lyuba, a mummified woolly mammoth calf in Chicago. American researchers are studying to bring mammoths back to life. (Chiswick Chap / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Top image: Using genetic material of this dead mammoth, Japanese researchers have taken the first steps in bringing mammoths back to life. Source: Cyclonaut / CC BY-SA 4.0
By Ed Whelan