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Scientists Discover Woolly Mammoth’s Ice Age Survival Gene

Icy Waters

Scientists have discovered the DNA that allowed woolly mammoths to adapt to the frigid temperatures of the Ice Age. In addition to their long, shaggy fur, short ears and tail that minimized frostbite, and a large amount of fat that enabled them to remain warm, the huge beasts had specific DNA that helped the mammoths to survive in the cold.

A study published on Thursday in the journal Cell Reports compared the genomes of two mammoths with genomes of one African elephant and three Asian elephants, reports Reuters. The remains of the two mammoths whose genomes were used in the study were found in northeastern Siberia; one was 60,000 years old, the other 18,5000 years old.

The “exhaustive genetic analysis” of the mammoths and their still living relatives revealed genetic adaptations that allowed the beasts to thrive in extreme Antarctic conditions. “. . . we know that mammoths evolved long, thick hair, large fat deposits and lived in really cold places,” said University of Chicago geneticist Vincent Lynch

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. Insulin signaling is important for fat biology because insulin regulates how much sugar in the blood is converted to energy and fat.

The prehistoric elephants disappeared around 10,000 years ago and were discovered “by accident” reports The Los Angeles Times. When Lynch contacted study co-leader Webb Miller of Penn State University who, along with Stephan C. Schuster of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, sequenced the first draft genome for the animal in 2008, the discovery woolly mammoth was stumbled upon. The first draft genome contains the catalog of more than 3 billion DNA bases that make up the mammoth’s genetic blue print.

During their research, the scientists “resurrected” the mammoth gene TRPV3. When this gene was transplanted into human cells, it produced a protein less responsive to heat than the elephant versions, which indicates this gene is what made mammoths less sensitive to cold.

This resurrection of the gene could make it easier to clone the mammoth, much like the dinosaurs in the film Jurassic Park, acknowledged the researchers. Although, as Lynch noted, “it’s not something we should do.”

While I think it will soon be technically possible to resurrect a mammoth, it is not something that we should do. Modern humans are not responsible for the extinction of mammoths, so we owe no debt to nature.

In other cloning news, scientists have discovered how to genetically modify a chicken to grow a dinosaur’s beak.

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