Scientists Complete First Comprehensive Analysis of Woolly Mammoth Genome

Posted on July 5, 2015

Woolly Mammoths in arctic

Scientists have completed the first comprehensive analysis of the woolly mammoth genome. The study found genes that helped the creatures adapt to live in the arctic.

The study was led by Vincent Lynch, PhD, assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago. Lynch and his colleagues deep sequenced the genomes of two woolly mammoths and three Asian elephants. Asian elephants are the closest living relatives of the mammoth. The researchers then compared these genomes against each other and against the genome of the African elephant.

Lynch says in a statement, "This is by far the most comprehensive study to look at the genetic changes that make a woolly mammoth a woolly mammoth. They are an excellent model to understand how morphological evolution works, because mammoths are so closely related to living elephants, which have none of the traits they had."

The researchers identified about 1.4 million genetic variants unique to woolly mammoths. They found genes with mammoth-specific changes were most strongly linked to fat metabolism, insulin signaling, skin and hair development, temperature sensation and circadian clock biology. The researchers note that all these genes would have been important for adapting to the extreme cold and dramatic seasonal variations in day length in the Arctic. They also identified genes for the mammoth's skull shape, small ears and short tails.

Vincent Lynch talks about the woolly mammoth gene findings in this video. Lynch says this is a step toward resurrecting a woolly mammoth. He says, "Whether you should take the next steps is up for debate. Whether you actually should resurrect a woolly mammoth, even though it is becoming technically possibly to do so is an ethical question, it's not a biological question." Take a look:

A research paper on the study was published here in the journal, Cell Reports.

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