The wooly mammoth disappeared from the face of the Earth approximately 10,000 years ago. Scientists have always theorized about how this massive mammal could bear the extreme cold temperatures in those prehistoric times. Thanks to a new study, the researchers were able to uncover the mysteries of this ancient furry creature.
The scientists collected and examined the genetic code of wooly mammoths that died 20,000 and 60,000 years ago. In order to eliminate any risk of error, they analyzed each letter of the genome more than 20 times.
Stephan Schuster, scientist at the Nanyang Technological University, explained that he has been trying to demonstrate that genomes from ancient animals can sequenced in a accurate way, similar to extant genomes, one of the best candidates for this is the wooly mammoth. The team of researchers compared the genomes to those collected from a modern Asian elephant.
The researchers analyzed the genetic codes of wooly mammoths and compared to living elephants from Africa and Asia to see if there are any similarities or differences between the species. According to what they found, the mammoths’ genomes were responsible for the growth of thick skin and hair on the ancient creatures’ body, which helped them withstand the extremely cold environment of those times. Also, the genetic material of the wooly mammoth helped them develop fat and insulin signaling, crucial for resisting in those harsh conditions.
The scientists found that a certain protein, known as TRPV3, which is responsible for body fat storage, body hair and perceiving temperatures, was mutated in wooly mammoths. The researchers managed to resurrect the gene in the laboratory and placed in inside the cell of a human kidney.
After analyzing the genetic material, the experts also found that some segments of the genome were responsible for the animal’s distinctive head shape, their short tails and small ears.
Vincent Lynch, an expert in genetics from the University of Chicago, explained that the new study, which shows the genetic modifications responsible for making the wooly mammoth the impressive creature that it is, is the most comprehensive ever. Lynch added that the mammoth is a perfect example for understanding how morphological evolution works, because these prehistoric creatures are closes related to modern elephants, which lack any of the traits the mammoth had.
Wooly mammoths lived in Europe, North America and Northern Asia a long time ago. They had thick coats of fur and layers of fat that kept them warm and helped them survive the cold environment.
Image Source: stanford.edu