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Woolly Mammoth Genome Study Brings Us A Step Closer To Cloning Ice Age Giants

7 July 2015, 7:50 am EDT By Jill Arce Tech Times
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The resurrection of the woolly mammoth of the Ice Age may be possible, according to scientists.

Researchers took a look at DNA in woolly mammoths and are pursuing further studies to find out how these long-gone creatures have been well-adapted to sub-zero temperatures. Moreover, they aim to be able to clone the woolly mammoth, or at least a hybrid version of it.

Collaboration of scientists from the Penn State University, University of Chicago and Singapore's Nanyang Technological University compared certain features between the now extinct woolly mammoth and the modern Asian elephants, and published their findings on July 2 in the online journal Cell Reports.

The scientists identified the whole-genome sequence of two woolly mammoths and three Asian elephants. They predicted genetic variants' functions of those found only in the mammoths and experimented on validating the function of their gene which was reconstructed in the lab.

Evolutionary change in the woolly mammoth gene was part of a suite of adaptations allowing the extinct species to survive the coldest of temperatures, the researchers say.

"We thought we'd just make the changes that are most likely to lead to an animal that looks, behaves and is adaptable to the cold like a mammoth," said Harvard University geneticist George Church. Church is not involved with the current study, but is pursuing one to bring back the extinct creatures to life.

Although mammoths are not to be expected roaming around any time soon, the findings of the experiment done by Penn State, University of Chicago and Nanyang take scientists a step closer to being able to clone them.

Church said that in doing so, research will first try to 'create' an animal resistant to cold, and which should come as a cross between a woolly mammoth and an Asian elephant. It will be more difficult to assemble a whole genome from scratch and make it function like natural genetic material, than just sequencing the genome. His team is currently using a tool called CRISPR which follows a cut-and-paste method into splicing mammoth genes into current Asian elephant cells.

"I've been trying for a long time to show that ancient genomes can be sequenced as accurately as extant genomes, and the woolly mammoth seemed like an ideal species for demonstrating this capability," said Nanyang Technological University's Stephan Schuster.

The comparative study between two similar creatures, the woolly mammoth and Asian elephant, determined certain characteristics in the mammoth that allowed it to survive arctic climate and may further lead to the resurrection of this popular, extinct creature in its incorporation into the modern Asian elephant as a hybrid.

Photo: Rob Pongsajapan | Flickr

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