Nation & World News

Report Of Liquid Woolly Mammoth Blood Prompts Clone Talk

By Bill Chappell on June 1st, 2013

Scientists in Siberia say they’ve extracted blood samples from the carcass of a 10,000-year-old woolly mammoth, reviving speculation that a clone of the extinct animal might someday walk the earth, if scientists are able to find living cells. But researchers say the find, which also included well-preserved muscle tissue, must be studied further to know its potential.

The female mammoth’s carcass was found “in good preservation on Lyakhovsky Islands of Novosibirsk archipelago,” according to a news release about the discovery by North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, Siberia.

“The fragments of muscle tissues, which we’ve found out of the body, have a natural red color of fresh meat,” said lead researcher Semyon Grigoriev of the university’s Museum of Mammoths. “The reason for such preservation is that the lower part of the body was underlying in pure ice, and the upper part was found in the middle of tundra.”

The paleontologists say they found a liquid they believe to be blood beneath the animal’s belly.

“The blood is very dark, it was found in ice cavities bellow the belly and when we broke these cavities with a poll pick, the blood came running out,” Grigoriev said. ” Interestingly, the temperature at the time of excavation was -7 to –10ºC. It may be assumed that the blood of mammoths had some cryoprotective properties.”

But other scientists caution that it’s too early to know whether the sample recovered from the site is blood, or perhaps some other liquid. And as Smithsonian.com reminds us, Grigoriev caused a stir last year when he claimed to have found a mammoth’s blood marrow — a material that, if recovered, would do much more to hasten a possible clone than would blood.

The Siberian scientists say they want to work with Canadian professor Kevin Campbell, who has written in the journal Nature Genetics that mammoths’ blood may have had special properties that allowed its hemoglobin to deliver oxygen to the body tissues even in extreme cold.

Campbell is also famous for “resurrecting this red blood cell protein hemoglobin from a woolly mammoth,” as he told the CBC last year.

Asked about the new Siberian discovery by Scientific American, Campbell says he has no way of knowing whether what “appears to be a remarkable finding” is genuine — but he also said he wants to study the specimens. And he offered some ideas about why the sample was in a liquid state, even at temperatures such as minus 17 degrees Celsius.

“For instance, maybe they did have some sort of cryoprotectant (arctic ground squirrels certainly seem to), and this became concentrated during the long period of preservation,” he tells Scientific American’s Kate Wong. “Conversely, maybe they had absolutely no ‘antifreezes’ and instead most of the water in the sample was taken up by the surrounding ice, such that the remaining ‘blood’ became extremely concentrated–which would lower its freezing point.”

Another explanation, he says, could be that the sample contains ice-living bacteria, which might have lent their cryoprotective properties to the pooled blood.

The North-Eastern Federal University says that some samples will also go to its “Mammoth rebirth” project, between the school and South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, with the goal of cloning a mammoth.

As our colleagues at the TED blog remind us, humans have a special fascination with wooly mammoths.

“Woollys are a quintessential image of the Ice Age … We seem to have a deep connection with them as we do with elephants,” DNA specialist Hendrik Poinar says in a TED talk. “I have to admit there’s a part of the child in me that wants to see these majestic creatures walk across the permafrost of the North.”

And for some folks, that fascination is joined by a desire to make money.

“Today, the hunt is on for woolly mammoth tusks in the Arctic Siberia,” writes TED’s Becky Chung. “Due to global warming, the melting permafrost has begun revealing these hidden ivory treasures for a group of local tusk-hunters to find and sell. A tusk can range from 10-13 foot in length and a top-grade mammoth tusk is worth around $400 per pound. Mammoth ivory, unlike elephant ivory, is legal.”

As for the lofty goal of possibly cloning the extinct animals some day, not everyone is convinced it’s a good idea to try to bring them back.

As scientist Daniel Fisher tells Kate Wong at Scientific American, “I have more confidence in our ability to generate new knowledge from the fossil record than in our ability to learn from cloned mammoths.”

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

This entry was posted in News from NPR. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.

 

More Stories in News from NPR

LeBron James Will Reportedly Return To The Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James will play for the Cleveland Cavaliers next season, according to multiple reports. The NBA star opted out of his contract with the Heat after spending four seasons in Miami.


Elephant Featured In Film ‘Alexander’ Killed By Thai Poachers

The 50-year-old Asian elephant, named Phlai Khlao, was apparently poisoned before his tusks were hacked off. Thai authorities are questioning a suspect who is a former elephant handler.


Luis Suarez will wear the number 9 for Barcelona.

Liverpool Unloads ‘The Biter,’ Sending Suarez To Barca For $128 Million

Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan punished for biting an opponent during the World Cup, is moving to Barcelona. The team reached terms with Liverpool in a transfer widely reported at more than $128 million.


German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany, on Friday. Steinmeier will meet Secretary of State John Kerry this weekend to discuss allegations of U.S. spying.

Germany Calls For ‘Honest Foundation’ In Relations With U.S.

The remarks by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier follow fresh allegations of U.S. spying on Germany as well as Berlin’s request that the top U.S. intelligence official in the country leave.


Ukrainian soldiers man a checkpoint about 30 miles from Donetsk, Thursday. Government officials said Friday that a rocket attack had killed as many as 30 soldiers.

Dozens Of Ukrainian Troops Reportedly Killed By Militants

Separatists in the east used a rocket-launching system in an attack that one officials said killed as many as 30 government troops. The strike comes after days of steady gains by Ukrainian forces.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Day Sponsorship Payments
Underwriting Payments