Mammoth DNA explains extinction

2008-11-20 11:09
Washington - Researchers have sequenced the gene map of a long-extinct, mummified woolly mammoth, using DNA taken from its hair.

The sequence shows that mammoths were more closely related to modern, living elephants than previously thought, and they found some elements, such as evidence of inbreeding, that may shed light on why the giant creatures went extinct, the researchers reported on Wednesday.

And it shows that it is possible to reconstruct the genomes of extinct creatures, they reported in the journal Nature.

"By deciphering this genome we could, in theory, generate data that one day may help other researchers to bring the woolly mammoth back to life by inserting the uniquely mammoth DNA sequences into the genome of the modern-day elephant," Stephan Schuster of Pennsylvania State University, who helped lead the research, said in a statement.

"This would allow scientists to retrieve the genetic information that was believed to have been lost when the mammoth died out, as well as to bring back an extinct species that modern humans have missed meeting by only a few thousand years."

Evolved slowly

The sequence shows that mammoths, which died out around 10 000 years ago, evolved slowly.

"We discovered that individual woolly mammoths were so genetically similar to one another that they may have been especially susceptible to being wiped out by a disease, by a change in the climate, or by humans," said Schuster.

The researchers will have to analyze the DNA to pinpoint some of the precise sequences unique to mammoths, but have some hints.

"Our data suggest that mammoths and modern-day elephants separated around six million years ago, about the same time that humans and chimpanzees separated," added Penn State biologist Webb Miller, who directed the study.

But mammoths and elephants appear more closely related than humans and chimpanzees are. Miller said the findings can help scientists understand evolution.

The researchers have been pulling DNA out of mummified mammoths and their hair for more than a decade, but because it is so old, the DNA is broken down. It is also contaminated by bacteria and fungi.

Mammoths offer a better target than most extinct animals because many of their bodies have been frozen since death - some so thoroughly that the meat is still edible.

The Penn State researchers believe they have about 80% of its genome complete.

Two groups

The evidence suggests that woolly mammoths then separated into two groups around 2 million years ago, which eventually became genetically distinct. One went extinct 45 000 years ago, while another survived until 10 000 years ago.

Next in line - perhaps Neanderthals, said Michael Hofreiter of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

"The next draft nuclear genome of an extinct species likely to become available is that of our closest relative, the Neanderthal, following on from publication of a complete Neanderthal mitochondrial genome sequence," Hofreiter wrote in a commentary.

A fast sequencing machine made by 454 Life Sciences, a Roche company, made the work possible, the researchers said. So far, 28 mammals have had their genomes sequenced, including humans, dogs, cats, rats and pigs.

NEXT ON NEWS24X

SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

 

Inside News24

 
/Fashion
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Friday Cape Town - 16:15 PM
    Road name: Wet Weather
    RAIN across the greater Cape Town area - drive with care and use headlights - Allow Extra Tavel Time
  • Friday Kuils River - 09:28 AM
    Road name: Polkadraai Road Eastbound
    ROADWORKS between the R102 Van Riebeeck Road and the R310 Baden Powell Drive exit - DELAYS
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2 TV Series for R250

Get 2 TV Series box sets for R250 and save up to R148! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on beauty & fragrances

Save up to 30% off beauty and fragrances. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 50% off hair care products!

Save up to 50% on professional hair care products at kalahari.com. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off academic books

Score a mind blowing 30% off academic books! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on electronics!

Save up to 35% on electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Apple iPad 3 Black 64GB 9.7" Tablet With WiFi & 4G

Retina Display Finally the incredible Retina display technology from the iPhone...

From R7999.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

The day may have a fluctuating sensitive energy to begin with, but later when the Moon moves into dramatic and creative Leo you...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.