Fear not, the gentle giants that once roamed the Earth are not rising from the dead, yet. Instead, scientists have managed to reconstruct and reactivate a zombie genome showing why woolly mammoths liked cold temperatures better than hotter ones, like their distant cousins, the elephants, do.
I’m not judging what these beautiful creatures did, but in the arctic tundra – things got pretty cold. Especially during the last ice age the mammoths are said to have survived. The study that was published in the Cell Reports journal, on Thursday, July 2nd, sheds light on the reason why the furry beasts made it through that harsh weather.
It appears that a single gene was wholly responsible for the wooly outside, as well as for the thick layer of fat displayed by the mammoths. To get to these findings, the team made up of several accomplished scientists looked at differences and similarities between the ancient creatures and the elephants. More specifically, they put the DNA of three Asian and African elephants alongside a high-quality recovered piece of mammoth DNA.
The team was led by three scientists: Vincent Lynch, Webb Miller, and Stephan C. Schuster.
The first, Lynch, from the University of Chicago, is an evolutionary biologist. His research focuses on studying the genetic foundation that made up the evolution of non-extinct animals. This endeavor therefore was a little off track from what he usually does.
The other two, Miller and Schuster, had previously worked on the first ever reconstructed draft genome for the wholly mammoth which meant cataloging over three billion bases that formed the blueprint for the DNA of the creature.
The ten thousand year old extinct mammoths became the subject of the matter when Lynch decided to contact Miller about another line of research he had been interested in. Their results showcased about 1.4 million variants which influenced protein changes made by nearly 1,600 genes.
They further compared these changes in the genetic structure to those that had happened in mice which had been important in cold adaptation, changing temperature sensation, modifying circadian clocks, and determining the size of fat, hair, or skin deposits.
Going further, the team narrowed the study down to the TRPV3 gene, resurrecting it and planting it in human cells along with the same gene from a modern day elephant. The proteins that the genes started to produce were much more active in the elephant version, therefore hinting that an inactive TRPV3 means a preference for cold weather.
The study was well received by other scientists working in the field, who liked the way a single small mutation impacted the mammoths in such a great way.
Image source: mirror.co.uk