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Using hairs from frozen mammoth corpses, scientists at Penn State have mapped much of the woolly mammoth's genome, paving the way for possible resurrection in the near future.  (Source: Penn State University)

Hair from the mammoth proved to be an ideal source of DNA fragments as it contains a natural protective sheath around its core, preventing most viral or bacterial contamination.  (Source: Penn State University)
Visions of resurrecting prehistoric animals are getting a big boost from high-tech gene sequencing methods

Recently deceased author Michael Crichton left behind a rich legacy of science fiction, much of which tread closely on the borderline of plausibility.  Perhaps Mr. Crichton's most salient work, the novel Jurassic Park involved scientists using DNA and modern genetics to resurrect extinct dinosaur species.  DailyTech previously discussed how scientists were working as of last year to create a Pleistocene park, resurrecting mammoths and saber-tooth cats and other extinct creatures in a fantastic endeavor that would surely make the late author proud.

Now researchers at Penn State University have brought these dreams closer to reality, announcing that via next-generation instruments and groundbreaking DNA-reading techniques they have been able to unravel much of woolly mammoth's genetic code.

The woolly mammoth, a species of elephant all but extinct 10,000 years ago (a few dwarf members of the species lived on an island until 1,700 BC), was an impressive beast well adapted to the climate of the Ice Age.  Its sebaceous glands secreted a thick layer of fat into its fur to help it stay warm, an adaptation similar to whales' blubber.

Scientists speculate that with a complete genome of the species, efforts to clone it may be possible.  After all, scientists have already injected genes from extinct species into living ones successfully.  Stephan Schuster, a Penn State University biochemistry professor and co-author of the research states of the historic work, "This really is the first time that we have been able to study an extinct animal in the same detail as the ones living in our own time."

So far over 3.3 billion DNA building blocks, known as base pairs, have been sequenced in the mammoth genome.  The entire genome is expected to be around 4 billion base pairs long, similar to the modern elephant's genome, mapped at the Broad Institute by MIT and Harvard scientists. 

Almost a billion base pairs in the mammoth project were thrown out after being labeled as possible contaminants, part of the method that makes the complex sequencing challenge possible.  Advanced detection methods screened out genes from bacteria and fungi, keeping only those that were part of the woolly mammoth's genome.

Aside from resurrecting the beast, one key element of the research is to better understand why the species went extinct.  Study co-author and biologist Webb Miller states, "The team is searching the mammoth's genome for clues about its extinction."

In order to get genetic material scientists used two hairs from frozen mammoth mummies collected in Siberian permafrost.  The mammoths had been frozen for approximately 20,000 to 60,000 years.  Hair was selected as a DNA source as it had less viral, bacterial, or fungal contamination than DNA in bones.  Hair contains organic compounds like collagen that encase the DNA at the center of its shaft within a protective coat similar to plastic.

Finding the DNA, while an arduous task in and of itself was downright easy compared to the actual sequencing process.  Explains Professor Schuster, "It's like a mirror that you smash on the floor. Then, like a jigsaw puzzle, you try to piece the DNA back together."

The pieces were compared and contrasted to the African elephant's genome to develop a rough blueprint of the mammoth's code, figuring out what might fit where.

One early results of the genetic research was the indication that the mammoth species separated into two distinct populations approximately 2 million years ago.  One population perished approximately 45,000 years ago, while the aforementioned population lived on until about 10,000 years ago.

Curiously the two groups of mammoth lived in the same area, but were not interbreeding.  For this reason the mammoth genome appears to have lower genetic diversity than many modern species, a possible cause for extinction.

The research is featured in this Thursday's edition of the journal Nature.

Of course any talk about the mammoth genome inevitably returns to the concept of resurrection.  States Professor Schuster, "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.  It could be done.  The question is, just because we might be able to do it one day, should we do it?"

And it is an intriguing ethical question at that.

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Ethical dilemma
By amanojaku on 11/21/2008 8:35:02 AM , Rating: 4
Of course any talk about the mammoth genome inevitably returns to the concept of resurrection.

And it is an intriguing ethical question at that.

You think software piracy is bad? Let's see what happens when I can buy- er, pirate my favorite actresses and models online.

"Dude, did you get married?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you're always buying food. Like, 10 times what you can eat."
"Oh, yeah, well the family... They're agoraphobics. But very, very affectionate."

RE: Ethical dilemma
By tastyratz on 11/21/2008 8:50:17 AM , Rating: 5
You have a good point.

Ill lock myself in my basement with my replica Lucy Liu and think about what I've done.

RE: Ethical dilemma
By Gzus666 on 11/21/2008 8:56:24 AM , Rating: 2
No mom, I would rather make out with my Monroe-bot.

RE: Ethical dilemma
By therealnickdanger on 11/21/2008 9:13:53 AM , Rating: 2
"I'll always remember you*MEMORY DELETED*"

RE: Ethical dilemma
By Gzus666 on 11/21/2008 9:21:30 AM , Rating: 2
I love Futurama so much, come back to me!

RE: Ethical dilemma
By AntiM on 11/21/2008 11:10:23 AM , Rating: 3
The question is, just because we might be able to do it one day, should we do it?"

Hell YES!!

RE: Ethical dilemma
By Ammohunt on 11/21/2008 2:31:04 PM , Rating: 2
Creatures go extinct for a reason mainly that of they can't adapt to whatever envirionmental pressure. Should we bring back elvis? his natural habitat still exists(Las Vegas)

RE: Ethical dilemma
By HeelyJoe on 11/22/2008 1:37:40 PM , Rating: 2
Nothing in nature happens for a reason or a purpose.

RE: Ethical dilemma
By PhoenixKnight on 11/23/2008 4:12:06 PM , Rating: 2
How can you be so sure that all those Elvis 'impersonators' aren't actually clones?

RE: Ethical dilemma
By 325hhee on 11/21/2008 4:06:55 PM , Rating: 3
You know some rich person would fund this project, so one way or another it will be done, regardless of ethical dilemmas, but that's only the start of it. Even if one can clone or resurrect a person/animal/whatever, that still wouldn't be the same thing, memories cannot be cloned at this point. Though there are researches being done now to store a human brains data onto some memory bank, the current technology isn't available yet, it's just a matter of time.

It'd be a scary world if that does happen, and natural selection would no longer play. Certain things die out, because they're just that dumb, like the dodo birds, other creatures dies out because of man, like the Panda Bears, they're on the verge of extinction, and there has yet to really breed a Panda in captivity and the offspring living a long life.

The question that's also needs to be asked, if they can clone a wolly mammoth, how many would be cloned, and where would they be kept. Would scientists put them into the wild, and if so how would that impact the current wild life in the North and South poles? Those are other questions of ethics that needs to be examined.

RE: Ethical dilemma
By JasonMick on 11/21/2008 5:02:33 PM , Rating: 3
I'm choosing to not bother to debate your other points, but this:
Panda Bears, they're on the verge of extinction, and there has yet to really breed a Panda in captivity and the offspring living a long life. crazy talk. Read this, please:,2933,294478,00.html

RE: Ethical dilemma
By CZroe on 11/22/2008 10:36:29 AM , Rating: 1
Though there is no excuse for thinking that it doesn't happen at all (the birth of Mei Lan has been BIG news for over two years), I can see why everyone thinks that it's more rare than it is: Media exaggeration. They really reach to sensationalize!

Your link to an article foreshadowing Europe's 2008 panda birth (Fu Long)...
"[Fu Long] will be the first giant panda to be born outside China by artificial insemination."
...directly conflicts with the much-older news about Atlanta's panda birth...
"After several years of trying, the zoo artificially inseminated Lun Lun at the end of March [2006]."
...which resulted in thte September 2006 birth of Mei Lan.

Mei Lan's "donor" has the same name as Fu Long's mother. ;)

RE: Ethical dilemma
By Fronzbot on 11/22/2008 7:21:54 PM , Rating: 2
Certain things die out, because they're just that dumb

Ever hear of Darwin? He'd slap you across the head.

A species doesn't die out because they're dumb, or because one species is "superior" than the other (actually, Darwin didn't believe there was a single superior species, even man, and that there were just degrees of differentiation that made some more apt to use the resources at hand in that specific environment). No, they die out because their primary traits (I believe there is a more proper word for it) are not as apt to use the resources at hand in their environment to survive. Those that live don't "purge" "bad" genes, but they just become recessive. Just because the dodo bird wasn't able to breed so they could use their genes that were more suited for that environment does not make them stupid by any means.

Of course to believe any of what I just said you have to agree with Darwin's theories which, despite what most people think, not many actually do.

Ethical ?
By Radnor on 11/21/2008 8:40:12 AM , Rating: 2
Ethically much can be said.

Of course i don't take many opinions seriously, because they kind fit into "virgins talking about sex" category.

I mean, Catholic Church talking about condoms, Big corporations talking about global warming and such.

It will be interesting none the less. And i hope they make it. The only big problem in "growing" the species again will be genetic diversity.

The rest, im eager to read, or see.

RE: Ethical ?
By plowak on 11/21/2008 3:02:47 PM , Rating: 2
Ethics aside, this would certainly be a mammoth undertaking!

(Sorry, couldn't help myself...I know, I'll get a life)

RE: Ethical ?
By Myg on 11/22/2008 7:22:35 AM , Rating: 1
I dunno; I personally think they are treading on thin ice to begin with...

RE: Ethical ?
By DjiSaSie on 11/22/2008 1:48:18 AM , Rating: 2
Hair was selected as a DNA source as it had less viral, bacterial, or fungal contamination than DNA in bones. Hair contains organic compounds like collagen that encase the DNA at the center of its shaft within a protective coat similar to plastic.

Well.. you won't see a T-Rex or alike in future as they don't have hairs, unless they have pubic hair

RE: Ethical ?
By Myg on 11/22/2008 6:58:36 AM , Rating: 2
Someone's got an axe to grind!

How bout this example; "Drug addicts talking about addiction"

A wise man once said.

You dont have to break something to know what its made of...

Infact; I would take a Virgin's opinion over someone who engages in sexual intercourse before they are married; simply for the fact that they have shown to have more self control and have continually practiced it in their life.

RE: Ethical ?
By Motoman on 11/22/2008 1:31:23 PM , Rating: 2
...or they're just ugly.

RE: Ethical ?
By foolsgambit11 on 11/22/2008 6:27:07 PM , Rating: 2
I just depends on what you want to know about sex. Or, more importantly, what answer you want to hear.

By Indianapolis on 11/21/2008 9:36:19 AM , Rating: 2
Something about that hairball looks disturbingly familiar...

RE: Gross
By Indianapolis on 11/21/2008 9:38:12 AM , Rating: 5
Okay, I'll just say it. It appears that Mammoths were covered in pubic hair. That being the case, I'd imagine they went extinct due to a crabs epidemic.

RE: Gross
By Sungpooz on 11/21/2008 2:40:41 PM , Rating: 2
They couldn't have been that horny. They've got tusks!...

Alright I apologize.

RE: Gross
By BruceLeet on 11/21/2008 5:05:05 PM , Rating: 2
Thank You

RE: Gross
By phxfreddy on 11/21/08, Rating: 0
RE: Gross
By Noya on 11/21/08, Rating: 0
RE: Gross
By CZroe on 11/22/2008 10:38:26 AM , Rating: 2
The girls you know are whores.

"This is from the It's a science website." -- Rush Limbaugh

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