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Scientists have brought 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth cells back to life.

Scientists have brought 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth cells back to life.

During a remarkable scientific experiment, cells from a woolly mammoth that died over 28,000 years ago began displaying “signs of life.”

Image credit: Kindai University

In 2011, a baby woolly mammoth was discovered in Siberian permafrost. Finding a substantially intact specimen after the species had been extinct for almost 4,000 years was huge news, especially because this one was 28,000 years old.

Scientists have been keen to learn whether the unearthed mammoth’s biological elements are still viable millennia later. Now, researchers at Japan’s Kindai University have discovered that its DNA is largely intact, indicating that they are well on their way to resurrecting this massive prehistoric creature.

This is what it may look like if they succeed (at first).

Model depicting mammoth calf, Stuttgart. Image credit: Apotea

In any case, the university’s experts were able to harvest nuclei from mammoth cells and transplant them into mouse oocytes, which are cells present in the ovaries and capable of generating an egg cell following genetic division.

The cells from the 28,000-year-old specimen began to display “evidence of biological processes” after that.

A time-lapse of mouse oocyte cells injected with mammoth nuclei. Kindai University/Scientific Reports

“This shows that cell activity may still exist and parts of it can be replicated even after years have gone,” said research author Kei Miyamoto of Kindai University’s Department of Genetic Engineering.

Five of the cells even displayed very unexpected and intriguing outcomes, such as signals of activity that are normally typically seen just before cell division.

Frozen mammoth calf “Lyuba” – it still had food in its stomach, Royal BC Museum. Image credit: Ruth Hartnup

It wasn’t simple determining whether the mammoth DNA could still operate. The scientists started by extracting bone marrow and muscle tissue from the animal’s leg. These were then examined for the existence of intact nucleus-like structures, which were then removed once discovered.

After combining these nuclei cells with mouse oocytes and adding mouse proteins, it was discovered that some of the mammoth cells were entirely capable of nuclear reconstitution. Finally, this demonstrated that active nuclei might be found in 28,000-year-old mammoth bones.

That is to say, reviving a creature like this one is a distinct possibility.

Royal Victoria Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 2018

While Miyamoto concedes that “we are very far from reconstructing a mammoth,” many researchers who are attempting to do it through genome editing are optimistic that success is on the horizon. Recent attempts, which employ the contentious CRISPR gene editing technique, are likely the most promising.

But do we really need to bring a long-extinct species back to life?


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