Mammoths might get another shot to roam earth

It is only a matted ball of hair. But it puts scientists a step closer to bringing the woolly mammoth back from the dead. They have unscrambled the prehistoric giant's DNA using samples of hair frozen in Siberian ice for thousands of years. The genetic code has shed new light on how mammoths evolved - and revealed that they are far closer to modern day elephants than anyone previously realised. The discovery could also allow researchers to tinker with the genetic make-up of an elephant and recreate the long extinct mammoth.

The Jurassic Park-style research was carried out using DNA from the remains of two mammoths frozen in the Siberian permafrost. One had been buried for 20,000 years, the other for least 60,000, the American scientists report today in the journal Nature. By carefully analysing the DNA, the team have pieced together a draft version of 80 per cent of the mammoth's genome - or genetic code. The findings show that woolly mammothsand elephants are closely related - sharing 99.4 per cent of the same genes.

The analysis also showed that mammoths and modern elephants took separate evolutionary paths six million years ago, at about the same time that humans and chimpanzees went their own way. Mammoths split into two groups two million years ago. One group became extinct 45,000 years ago, while the other lived until the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago. Male mammoths were around 10ft tall, while the females were slightly smaller. Their tusks were long and curled, while their hair was up to three feet long on their underbellies.

The bodies of around 40 mammoths have so far been discovered preserved in Siberia.

The U.S. scientists involved in the latest research used DNA from hair because it was better preserved than the DNA from other parts of the mammoths' bodies.

Some researchers have suggested using skin or hair from the frozen creatures to clone a mammoth. Professor Stephan Schuster, who led the study at Pennsylvania State University, said: '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.'

But Dr Michael Bunce, head of the Ancient DNA Laboratory at Murdoch University in Western Australia, said: 'Just because we know the DNA code of something does not mean we can genetically tinker with it to the extent required to recreate extinct organisms.'
Credits: Dailymail.

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