Perfectly Preserved Woolly Mammoth Trunk Found In Siberia Could Aid Cloning Efforts

By Josh Lieberman on September 24, 2013 3:42 PM EDT

wooly
A 10,000-year-old wooly mammoth trunk, perfectly preserved in the Siberian permafrost, could aid in the cloning of the animal. Above, a model from the Royal British Columbia Museum. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists in Siberia have dug up a perfectly preserved wooly mammoth trunk. Frozen for 10,000 years on an Artic Island off the coast of Russia's Sakha Republic, the wooly mammoth trunk is so well-preserved that the meat inside the trunk is still red.

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"It is the best preserved adult mammoth trunk ever found," said Semyon Grigoriev, head of the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk, Russia. "Its red meat, skin and hairs are in good condition. It looks like a freshly killed animal meat."
The wooly mammoth was 50 to 60 years old when it died. Its meat smelled "not very fresh," Grigoriev said, but it was far from the horrible smell of decomposed ancient animals.  

In addition to the wooly mammoth trunk, the scientists found liquid blood in the carcass, the first time mammoth blood has ever been found.

Scientists in the United States, South Korea, Holland and Canada are all vying for the chance to study samples from the wooly mammoth trunk. They hope to find "living cells" in the trunk, which would provide scientists with the least damaged and most useful DNA.

If the trunk does yield living cells with nuclear DNA, then everyone's favorite prospect -- wooly mammoth cloning -- may be more feasible, said Grigoriev. But it would still take an incredibly long time before that were a reality, Grigoriev stressed.

"Everybody is talking about about cloning, but we should understand that it is a very complicated task," Grigoriev told the Siberian Times, saying that even if nuclear DNA were found, that would only be a halfway point. "The next question is how to use an elephant in the cloning process. The evolutionary path of the mammoth and the elephant diverged a long time ago. So even if we could get a 'living cell' we need to have a special method of cloning."

Without the nuclear DNA, Grigoriev estimated it could take as much as 50 to 60 years to create artificial DNA.

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