Scientists have unearthed enough of the wooly mammoth’s genome to be close to cloning the extinct ice-age creature, and in the course of their research they may have discovered the gene that helped keep mammoths warm.
The most recently discovered gene is believed to have helped mammoths endure the arctic climate before their extinction. In a study published last Thursday in the Journal of Cell Reports, scientists compared the mammoth’s genome with that of Asian elephants and found approximately 1.4 million variations between the genes.
The team of scientists then “resurrected” one variation within the TRPV3 gene, which experts believe to be responsible for the creature’s climate acclimation, according to Sci-Tech Today
. A mutation within the gene may be the reason behind the wooly mammoth’s thick fur and layers of fat.
"We looked for the changes that make a woolly mammoth a woolly mammoth," said Vincent Lynch, a University of Chicago evolutionary biologist who worked on the study.
George Church, a Harvard Medical School geneticist, told Sci-Tech Today the study is important because the data “show that one small mutation (in the TRPV3 gene) has a huge impact on temperature sensitivity."
In April 2015, scientists at McMaster University, Harvard Medical School and the Swedish Museum of Natural History researched the mammoth’s genome to decipher a more accurate estimate of when the animal went extinct. Their research compared the remains of two mammoths that lived 40,000 years apart to conclude that the wooly mammoth population began to decline 250,000 to 300,000 years ago, but did not actually become extinct until 4,000 years ago.
Hendrik Poinar, McMaster University Ancient DNA Center director, said knowing when the mammoth began to decline "is key to our understanding of why they went extinct. That helps shed light on how herbivores in general are going to deal with the rapid warming climate that we are undergoing now,” CBS News reported
The study contributed to what scientist knew about the mammoth’s genome, bringing them a step closer to the prospect of creating a clone of a wooly mammoth and its genetic makeup.
"This then gives us this roadmap, so to speak, of what we would need to change in an Asian elephant chromosome to make them mammoth-like,” Poinar said.
However, Poinar isn't sure that trying to clone the wooly mammoth is a worthwhile endeavor.
“I would love to see a mammoth population walking across the tundra in the north ... There are animal-related issues of how easy it is to carry that to term and what does that mean toward the pain of current living elephants that might have to do that ... And if the money comes in from private hands, does that mean it becomes a theme park? If these are mammoths to bring back for a zoo, I am not interested at all," he said.
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