Researchers have thoroughly analyzed the woolly mammoth genome for the first time and have discovered valuable insight into the woolly mammoth’s lifestyle: how the animal adapted to the arctic and how it was able to survive.
According to the study published in the journal Cell Reports the genetic adaptations of the woolly mammoth allowed it to survive in subzero temperatures in the ice age. The small ears of the woolly mammoth kept the internal heat and the fat protected the ears from the cold; that’s how the ears became less vulnerable to the extreme cold.
In order to reach this result the researchers compared and contrasted the woolly mammoth and nowadays elephants. Namely they placed the DNA of three African and Asian elephants alongside a piece of mammoth DNA which was well-conserved. Thus the scientists identified some genes which were connected with certain physical traits such as short tails, small ears and skull shape. In order to test the function of a mammoth gene responsible for temperature sensation the researchers resurrected it in the laboratory. Afterwards they characterized its protein product.
The lead author of the study Vincent Lynch form the University of Chicago described the study as the most comprehensive study which was conducted on woolly mammoth genome. He also added that since mammoths are so closely related to the living elephants they are a great model to understand how morphological evolution happened.
In fact what the scientists are trying to do is to modify the Asian elephants using mammoth genes in such a way that they will gradually bring the extinct woolly mammoth back to life again. First of all they plant to experiment with the Asian elephant. This will make it easier to bring the mammoth back to life. If they won’t be able to bring the woolly mammoth back to life they will at least create a hybrid: a version of the Asian elephant which has the characteristics of the mammoth.
However Lynch remarked:
“Eventually we’ll be technically able to do it. But the question is: if you’re technically able to do something, should you do it? I personally think no. Mammoths are extinct and the environment in which they lived has changed. There are many animals on the edge of extinction that we should be helping instead.”
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