An international team of researchers provided the first and most complete genome of the extinct Siberian woolly mammoth. The complete genome opens the possibility of reviving the species through cloning.
Researchers from McMaster, Harvard Medical School, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm University and others collaborated in analyzing the well-preserved specimens from the remains of two male woolly mammoths. One was believed to had lived in the northeastern Siberia almost 45,000 years ago, while the other one could have lived on Russia's Wrangel Island, located in the Arctic Ocean around 4,300 years ago.
Using sophisticated technology to analyze every piece of the specimens, the scientists concluded that the woolly mammoths' population started to decline 250,000 to 300,000 years ago. Earlier studies suggest that climate change and human hunting were the key factors that led to the woolly mammoth's extinction, but the new study suggests that it could be something more significant than those.
"We found that the genome from one of the world's last mammoths displayed low genetic variation and a signature consistent with inbreeding, likely due to the small number of mammoths that managed to survive on Wrangel Island during the last 5,000 years of the species' existence," Love Dalén, an associate professor of Bioinformatics and Genetics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, said in a news release.
Aside from using the complete genome to determine the cause of the woolly mammoth's extinction, the researchers admitted that it also opens the possibility of bringing back the species through cloning and using an elephant as a surrogate mother.
"This discovery means that recreating extinct species is a much more real possibility, one we could in theory realize within decades," said Hendrik Poinar, evolutionary geneticist and director of the Ancient DNA Centre at McMaster University and researcher at the Institute for Infectious Disease Research.
The study was published in the April 23 issue of Current Biology.