3D CG rendering of a mammoth

Scientists ‘wake up’ ancient woolly mammoth cells

Image credit: Junichi Shimazaki | Dreamstime.com

Japanese and Russian scientists have recorded activity in cells taken from a woolly mammoth that roamed the Earth 28,000 years ago, marking a potential breakthrough in a quest to clone the prehistoric animal.

Scientists based in Japan claim to have taken a “significant step” towards bringing the extinct species back to life. This follows after the team transplanted cells extracted from the carcass of a mammoth into a mouse, where they subsequently recorded positive biological activity.

“This suggests that, despite the years that have passed, cell activity can still happen and parts of it can be recreated,” Kei Miyamoto, a member of the team who conducted the work, said.

“Until now, many studies have focused on analysing fossil DNA and not whether they still function," Miyamoto added.

The cells were taken from the 28,000-year-old mummified remains of a woolly mammoth, named Yuka, who was found in Siberia in 2010. Yuka – which died when it was about seven years old – is one of the best-preserved mammoths within the scientific world.

The team extracted tissue samples from the animal’s bone marrow and muscle, and then began searching for cell nuclei remains. In total, 88 nucleus-like structures were collected from the muscle sample.

The structures were then injected into mouse oocytes – a cell in an ovary which can undergo genetic division to form an egg cell.

The team said following the procedure a “pronucleus-like structure budded from the injected mammoth nucleus”, also finding possible signs of repair to damaged mammoth DNA.

“These results indicate that a part of mammoth nuclei possesses the potential for nuclear reconstitution,” the scientists said in a paper published in the journal Nature.

Woolly mammoths have been extinct for more than 4,000 years, with some scientists believing they died off from the changing climate and human hunters.

‘Significant steps’ have been made towards bringing the extinct species back to life

‘Significant steps’ have been made towards bringing the extinct species back to life; Getty Images/iStock

Image credit: Getty/iStock

While some evidence of biological processes were seen, the damage the elements had on the cells are not enough for bringing the mammoth back to life, eschewing any kind of “Jurassic Park-style resurrection” that many have hoped for, Miyamoto said.

Furthermore, despite the successes, the scientists did not observe the further cell division necessary to create a viable egg, “possibly due to the extensive DNA damage in the transferred nuclei”.

“We have also learned that damage to cells was very profound. We are yet to see even cell divisions. I have to say we are very far from recreating a mammoth.”

The university has worked with other Japanese and Russian institutes to study and to possibly clone the mammoth and plans to study alternative methods to bring the prehistoric giant back to life.

“We need new technology, we want to try various approaches,” Miyamoto concluded.

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