Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Mammoth Cloning - a reality?

  1. Mar 27, 2005 #1


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Mammoth Cloning - how close are we?

    You may recall the Woolly Mammoth excavated by an international team of scientists. This was an intact 20,380 year old carcass that was air lifted from the permafrost on the Taimyr Peninsula of Siberia. It was brought to Khatanga (northern Siberia) where it could be kept stable for detailed research in a permafrost tunnel.

    This was publicized on the Discovery Channel a few years ago (1999)
    http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/landofmammoth/landofmammoth.html [Broken]
    I recall watching as they took a hair dryer to it and when they reached the hairs along it back, they described it had strong animal smell. (Perhaps the same smell you would encounter, had you gotten close to one 20,000 years ago).

    To be able to study an intact animal from another period, is a paleontologist's dream. There is speculation that the body is so well preserved, scientists may be able to clone him.. Granted, the chances of finding whole DNA strands are slim. However, there will be lots of fragmented DNA. With today's methods of sequencing, fragment sequences can quickly be analyzed by computer. By comparing strands with overlapping sequences, whole strands of DNA can be deduced. As I understand it, that is also how the human genome was mapped.
    Once we have a complete map of all its chromosomes (and extra nuclear DNA), can we reconstruct a full set? Is the technology close at hand to make an exact copy of a species that became extinct 10,000 years ago? :bugeye:
    Has anyone read about subsequent research completed on the Jarkov Mammoth?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 28, 2005 #2
    They haven't been able to find any living cells that contain DNA. Even freezing has to be done correctly for the cells to remain viable.
  4. Mar 28, 2005 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I wouldn't expect anyone to find cells that are still alive, from that period. You can still find preserved DNA fragments from old frozen cells. The journal Science has published research on well preserved, ancient animal and plant DNA extracted from permafrost.

    see ---> http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s833847.htm
  5. Mar 30, 2007 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Thanks for bringing this up again. As you can see from this topic, discussion along these lines, have crossed my mind as well.

    Let's break down your query into two parts..
    (1)What happened to cloned mammoths?
    (2)What happened to the elephant/mammoth hybrids, using frozen mammoth sperm?

    Let's see what has been accomplished since I opened this thread in March 2005.

    As Andre pointed out, scientists have completed sequencing the mitochondrial genome of the woolly mammoth Mammuthus primigenius

    Krause et al, Nature, Feb 2006 ref01
    Rogaev et al, PLOS Biology, Feb 2006, ref02

    A more ambitious undertaking is sequencing of the nuclear genome

    Around the same time of Krause and Rogaev's papers, a report was made in Dec 2005, a collaborative work between http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/Schuster12-2005.htm[/URL]

    [quote]We sequenced 28 million base pairs of DNA in a metagenomics approach, using a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) sample from Siberia. As a result of exceptional sample preservation and the use of a recently developed emulsion polymerase chain reaction and pyrosequencing technique, 13 million base pairs (45.4%) of the sequencing reads were identified as mammoth DNA. Sequence identity between our data and African elephant (Loxodonta africana) was 98.55%, consistent with a paleontologically based divergence date of 5 to 6 million years. The sample includes a surprisingly small diversity of environmental DNAs. The high percentage of endogenous DNA recoverable from this single mammoth would allow for completion of its genome...

    They imply there is sufficiently good quality DNA to sequence the entire mammoth nuclear genome.This will be an important step in the process of cloning a complete mammoth. This would be a 100% woolly mammoth.

    For a mammoth-elephant hybrid, scientists are searching for viable frozen mammoth sperm. This would be used to impregnate an asian elephant and any viable off-spring would be true hybrid (50%). So far, I have not found any reports about finding viable mammoth sperm. However we do know some of the scientists working on this project. They may be able to tell us more.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  6. Nov 20, 2008 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Re: Mammoth Cloning - a reality

    Most http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7738062.stm" [Broken], using the hair from woolly mammoths preserved in the Siberian permafrost, researchers have sequenced approximately 80% of the genome. Comparing their sequence to the African elephant, it was found to differ by 0.6%
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  7. Nov 20, 2008 #6
    Re: Mammoth Cloning - a reality

    I happen to know some more about it, It just so happens that my buddy, Dick Mol, was that(only) man with the hair dryer (not they). But it is unfinished business due to political issues as well as financial issues of the sponsor.

    There are many more interesting mammoth mummies now but that's another story.

    Dick is not in favour of cloning mammoths. His take is that the biotope, the mammoth steppe, is gone now, none of the current cold steppes have the required productivity of fodder around the year. Another problem for cloning is more technical, how to manage a herd of female indian Elephant under laboratory conditions?

    Main publication about the Jarkov mammoth

    http://www.yukonmuseums.ca/mammoth/abstrmol-mor.htm [Broken]

    Intensive research of the daily growth rings of the tusks has been done by Dr Daniel Fischer of Ann Arbor with interesting results about biannual migration patterns and something about the "day" count apparantly not matching the years, but that was never published as far as I know.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  8. Nov 20, 2008 #7


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

  9. Nov 21, 2008 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Very nice on your connection with this researcher. Sorry I missed your previous posts in '05 and '06.. I am catching up on them now (thanks to the added PF feature, listing related posts).

    Good point, it would not be easy to find a suitable environment for cloned Woollies (Mammuthus primigenius). If sufficient fodder were the biggest hurdle, perhaps they could be herded in National Reserves as they do with North American Bison in the U.S. Their range grasses could be managed (agriculturally) on Reserves. I also appreciate your 2nd point, an initial study of partially cloned mammoths, under laboratory quarantine, would pose management problems.

    Thanks for posting, i will take a closer read on these..

    Thanks for posting, good article.. as they discuss how technologically close we are, to cloning not only Woolly Mammoth but other extinct species including Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis).
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  10. Nov 21, 2008 #9
    It's probably all in the older threads but I just like to tell about how it had come this way.

    I was minding my own business when this picture hit the head lines in 1998:

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/fit/images/fig15_1.jpg [Broken]

    Lateron I watched the Discovery documentary Raising the mammoth and discussed it with people around. I was astound that nobody saw the discepancy that I saw. How could a grazing animal thrive in large herds close to the North Pole in the middle of the Last Glacial Maximum? Wouldn't that be a bomb under everything we thought we knew about the paleo climate? So eventually I ended up calling Dick Mol about eight years ago and he invited me for a talk with a few friends. That was exactly his question too.

    We still haven't solved it but it is definitely a big issue and we probably won't solve it too, since It's not only the standard arch conservatism of science resisting changes; it's also that everything that challenges current climate wisdom is strongly discouraged.

    But we're talking cloning and I agree that the North American prairies, with the snow blown away in winter time, may resemble the disappeared Mammoth steppes and perhaps it could host mammoths, should they have been alive today. The original location high north on the Taimyr peninsular is completely different. The high arctic tundra does not allow for grazing, the vegetation takes years to recover from that. Moreover the snow cover in winter time hides all edibles. So the question is still, how did they get American prairy type landscapes in the high Arctic tundra during the last ice age?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  11. Nov 21, 2008 #10
    ...but they didn't "thrive", did they? They went extinct...indeed even the specimen that is being discussed here obviously froze to death and has been frozen ever since.
  12. Nov 21, 2008 #11
    Some Fungi found out there http://www.yukonmuseums.ca/mammoth/abstrmol-mor.htm [Broken] suggested a high density of grazers:

    This particular mammoth was living there more than 20,000 years ago, while they went extinct around 11,000 years ago, when it was supposed to be getting warmer. Tons and tons of bones collected in that Taimyr peninsula predominantly dated around 12,000 years ago. There are several finds that suggest that things don't add up temperature wise, for instance, for a similar find, the Fishhook mammoth:

    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  13. Nov 21, 2008 #12
    Hmmm...perhaps the north pole 20k years ago is not the same place as it is today (axis shift)? Or maybe it wasn't as cold 20k years ago as we think it was? I wouldn't know for I am not so knowledgable in such things.

    But, for this specimen to be so well preserved for so long, it must have frozen quickly and stayed frozen for all these years. So while it may have gotten much warmer over the last 20k years, it still wasn't warm enough to thaw this specimen. So I think it is safe to say that the region in which this one was found has always (or for the last 20k years) been a very cold environment.
  14. Nov 22, 2008 #13
    You are thoughing very sensitive area here. It appears that all the reasonable hypotheses conflict with some evidence or other. One could say that if a meteorological north pole or climatal north pole had been over East Canada then in looks if the whole lot would have been explained. But you'd need a credible physical mechanism to get it there and that appears to be a show stopper.

    That's what you would think indeed. However the flash frozen mammoth story is a myth. For instance, why do we only find mammoth mummies? And why not horses, aurox, deer, etc, which were even more abundant than mammoths. Moreover, the Jarkov mammoth died in springtime, judging from the tusk analysis of Daniel Fischer, another more recent mammoth, the yukagir mammoth below, also died in the spring, as analysed from twigs in the guts.


    Not really, during the Holocene Thermal Optimum roughly between 9000 - 7000 years ago temperatures in Siberia are estimated at least 5C (8F) higher than today and the tree line advanced all the way to the Arctic coast.

    http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ap/qr/2000/00000053/00000003/art02123 [Broken]

    Anyway, it's perhaps more likely that the mummification had more to do with peat conservation, mammoths somehow getting caught more easily than the more agile smaller herbivores.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  15. Nov 22, 2008 #14

    George Jones

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member



    is an interview Penn State's Stephan Schuster on sequencing the wooly mammoth's genome that aired today on CBC's science programme Quirks and Quarks. At the end of the interview, Schuster talks about the feasibility of "reverse-engineering" a mammoth.
  16. Nov 22, 2008 #15
    Thanks George

    Some remarks about the intro of that fragment,

    -the last woolly mammoths on the continents are dated around 11,000 years ago, not 12,000 years ago

    -The youngest carbon dated mammoth fossil of Wrangel island dated 3700 BP or about 4000 calendar years BP not 3500 years as suggested

    -and those last Wrangel Islands mammoths were not dwarfs as suggested, this was diagnosed on a denegerated molar but other remains were of normal proportions.
  17. Nov 22, 2008 #16


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Good clip, George!!

    Towards the end of it, he discussed the bottleneck in reverse engineering a Woolly Mammoth. At present, they only make single changes, at a time, to DNA. As they propose to make 400,000 changes to an African elephant's genome to incorporate the sequences found in the woolly mammoth; this would be very arduous and expensive task.

    However, what Dr. Schuster didn't mention, (and found in the article LowlyPion referenced post #7), he is collaborating with http://www.hms.harvard.edu/dms/bbs/fac/church.html" [Broken] at Harvard Medical School. Church has devised a method (yet to be published) of changing 50,000 sites at a time, which would greatly accelerate the process.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook