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Jurassic Park in the Making: Woolly Mammoth Could be Recreated from Cells Found in Siberia

Sep 12, 2012 07:56 AM EDT
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The Scythian horse warriors of ancient Siberia

Scientists have discovered small fragments of a woolly mammoth well-preserved and frozen in Siberia that could possibly contain living cells, raising hopes that the extinct animal might be cloned. 

A team of international researchers, on an expedition in the northeastern province of Yakutia in Siberia, is said to have found frozen small fragments of woolly mammoth including soft tissues, hair, fat tissues, fur and bone marrow at a depth of about 328 feet (100 meters) in Yakutia, reported Russian News and Information Agency RIA Novosti.

The discovery has raised hopes of a possible cloning if the researchers could find living cells in them. While fragments of the mammoth have been found in earlier expeditions, experts could not find any living cells needed for cloning.

Woolly mammoth became extinct some 10,000 years ago. Remains of the giant mammal have earlier been found in the permafrost of Siberia. In April, remains of a frozen juvenile mammoth were found along Siberia's Arctic Ocean shore. The mammoth named "Yuka" was lying in its icy tomb for more than 10,000 years. Scientists have decoded most of the mammoth's genetic code by analyzing the mammoth's hair. They noticed that Yuka had strawberry-blonde hair.

If researchers could find living cells from well-preserved tissues containing genes that are not damaged or tampered, they could attempt to recreate the prehistoric animal. The new discovery is significant, as scientists will try to determine if living cells are present in any of the fragments obtained.

According to a report in RT, the fragments will be sent to Seoul in South Korea, where it will be analyzed. A report in RIA Novosti stated that the controversial cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-Suk of South Korea's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation has already shown interest in the discovery, quoting from a press release issued last week by Russia's North-Eastern Federal University.

In March 2012, Woo-Suk 's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation signed a research deal with the North-Eastern Federal University of the Sakha Republic to recreate the extinct mammoth.

While the expedition team is hoping to find living cells, experts from the Institute of Paleontology of the Russian Academy of Sciences told RIA Novosti that they have doubts about finding living cells in the frozen remains of the mammoth.  

"The cell structure with nucleus can be preserved under special conditions in deep-freeze," Alexander Agadzhanyan, the chief of the Institute's mammal laboratory, told the Russian news agency, but added that the cells needed a stable exchange with the environment to stay alive.

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