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'The power of the taiga... perhaps only migratory birds know where it ends'
Anton Chekhov, 1890

Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than initially believed

By The Siberian Times reporter
27 October 2018

Radiocarbon dating shows baby horse is 42,170 years old: bid to restore the species will 'pave the way for return of woolly mammoth'.

Comeback after 42,170 years. Picture: The Siberian Times

The light ginger-coloured carcass of the long-gone species of horse was found in the permafrost in Yakutia, the coldest region in Russia.

Experts initially said it was between 30,000 and 40,000 years old. 

Now Semyon Grigoryev, leading researcher at the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk, has revealed: 'The exact age turned out to be 42,170.’

Radiocarbon tests were carried out by South Korean professor Hwang Woo-suk with whom Siberian scientists are collaborating in efforts to clone a number of extinct species preserved in permafrost - including the woolly mammoth.

Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed


Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed


Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed


Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed


Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed


Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed
The Batagai foal, Semyon Grigoryev and the team that found the horse, the Batagai depression in Yakutia. Pictures: The Siberian Times, NEFU, Semyon Grigoryev


Achieving the return of the lost horse species is seen as a precursor for an attempt to restore the woolly mammoth.

A search is now underway in Yakutia for live cells from a foal found in permafrost in the Batagai depression. 

Semyon Griogoryev said earlier: 'Fortunately, the animal's muscle tissues were undamaged and well preserved, so we managed to get samples of this unique find for biotechnology research.' 

Professor Hwang - who has returned to Yakutsk - told The Siberian Times: ‘If we manage to find a cell, then we will do our best to clone the unique animal.' 

'We are trying to make primary culture using this baby horse, which was discovered a few weeks ago. 

‘If we get live cells from this ancient baby horse, it is a wonderful promise to people in terms of cloning.’

Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed


Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed


Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed

Radiocarbon dating shows baby horse is 42,170 years old. Pictures: The Siberian Times


When the woolly mammoth makes a comeback, its surrogate mother will be an elephant - but he said it should be easier to use a modern-day mare to restore a lost horse species.

‘We have so many live horses,’ Professor Hwang said. ‘We can get a very good choice of eggs from these female horses. After making the cloned embryo with this baby horse, we can easily transport it to the surrogate mother. There are the types of horses that are very close with the ancient one.’

In contrast, there is ‘a very big distance between the ancient mammoth and the elephant’, he said. 

‘There are a million years of evolution between them.’

Hwang stressed: 'So if we find only one live cell, we can clone this ancient horse. 

‘If we have one live cell, we can multiply it and get as many embryo as we need.

'Actually if we get the living cell from the ancient tissue it will be unique by itself, because no one managed to do this before. If we manage to clone the horse - it will be the first step  to cloning the mammoth. It will help us to work out the technology.’

Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed


Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed


Comeback after 42,170 years? Extinct ancient foal in pioneering cloning experiment is older than  initially believed

Modern day Yakut horses. Pictures: The Siberian Times


Dr Grigoryev said earlier: ‘The foal has no damage to its carcass, even its hair is preserved - which is incredibly rare for such ancient finds.’

Its mane and tail are intact. 

He said: ‘This was called the Lenskaya, or Lena horse (Equus lenensis), genetically different from those living in Yakutia now….

‘This is the first find in the world find of a pre-historic horse of such a young age and with such an amazing level of preservation.’

Modern-day Yakut horse is the hardiest in the world, surviving temperatures of minus 60C in the blistering Siberian winters. 

The the species was preceded by the extinct species. The reason these horses died out is not known.

Comments (6)

Andrey, I think there has recently been mention of pursuing an artificial womb solution, especially in view of practical & ethical considerations with elephants. Dr. Church and Harvard seem involved, but I've seen others who appear to be 'going point-man' on the mission.

Yes, ecological & environmental positions weigh in, outside the technical issues of bringing back species ... and of course the external womb could be even more provocative. Interestingly, checking 'church artificial womb', I am reminded that the Catholic Church, and others in the Right To Life camp, are showing strong interest in the AW topic.

Yes, I think it's feasible.
Ted Clayton, Forks, USA
28/10/2018 22:37
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0
Although radiation does interfere with living molecules, such as DNA, its role in damaging frozen carcass-tissues receives little attention from professionals (ie, it appears to be unimportant). That radiation is dangerous to living animals relates firstly to the susceptibility of rapidly-regenerating tissues, such as the lining of the digestive tract, bone-marrow, hair follicles, and the living inner-dermis layer of skin. Radiation causes harm, mainly during the cellular-division process. Tissues in which the cells are not reproducing rapidly are drastically & dramatically less-sensitive to radiation. Dead cells, frozen tissues won't be strongly affected.

Tissues & cells of frozen beasts are damaged firstly by the freezing per se (cellular & tissue-water expands, bursting the microstructure, and ice-crystals puncture cell-walls, etc), by discrete aspects of the freeze-thaw cycle (during periods of exposure), and by desiccation (Arctic air is extremely dry, and removes frozen water from tissues, by sublimation). These are the primary causes of damage & disruption in carcasses, tissues, cells and molecules.

Yes, nematodes are adapted to whatever environmental extremes their habitat (soil) is subjected. In cold regions, that includes freezing. Elsewhere, tiny things survive extreme desiccation, and heat. In this vein, don't miss the amazing Tardigrades (Water Bear).

Is it unscientific to look for whole cells that can be resuscitated, in a carcass as well-preserved & protected as this 42,000 year old foal? No it is not; it would be irresponsible not to exert ourselves to an unusual decree, on the chance that we are successful. Big potential rewards justify trying, even if the odds are against us.

Technically & scientifically and even nursing-clinic-speaking, the tissue-damage of which we are speaking is like a fall from a height. It is not the fall that hurts, but the sudden stop at the end. Similarly, it is less a matter of the freeze-event that damages living structure, but rather the events attending the thaw-process.

We know there are good ways and bad ways to address frost-bite. Similarly, scientific methods are receiving intense attention, to mitigate the adverse effects of thawing Pleistocene tissues. Some of this work is at the extreme cutting-edge of science, has not been Published, and is the focus of keen competition between Labs & Scientist.

Let's wish them Good Luck, with the amazing Batagai foal.
Ted Clayton, Forks, USA
28/10/2018 22:04
1
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Mac, I'm not against clonation, these animals (mammoths, horses, rhinos, lions...) were wiped out by Homo sapiens and their lack in the ecosystems is very negative for their biodiversity and resilience. I'm just saying that due to solar radiation is impossible to find a whole functional genome so old in the case of mammals, so the only way currently is through CRISP, as Church and his team are doing in Harvard with mammoth. It would be much easier with horses.
Andrey, Yakutia
28/10/2018 14:11
4
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The erudite comments of you both bear consideration, but I see no attempt to mislead the public. Cloning of extinct animals is controversial at best and unpredictable under any circumstances, yet I see no effort on the part of the scientists involved to cover-up these issues. Certainly the cloning of an extinct horse or a dire wolf is not quite as dangerous as cloning a T-Rex. Every dog has his day, my aunt used to say, and perhaps their day is over. But I would, in this 6th extinction, like to see them again.
Mac Sintes, United States
28/10/2018 13:42
0
0
It is agreed, that of course none of the cells in the Batagai foal are "alive". Or at least, no more so than that the cells in a frozen beef-steak or fryer-chicken bought in the super-market, are "alive". Ewww!

Yet scientists have to answer questions in which the Public is keenly interested ... and without trying to include an advanced Textbook in a quick Post.

In most carcasses found frozen in Siberian muck, the challenge is to extract merely the DNA component of the normally-degraded cells. The DNA is very valuable, but it does not grow on its own; rather it needs to be surrounded by the functioning machinery of a Cell.

Any mammal contains different kinds of Tissues, and Cells. 'Histology'. Different specific kinds of cells possess very different properties & characteristics. And that includes various sorts of resistance, to various sorts of degradation. Furthermore, while acknowledging that Russian Machine Never Breaks, we have heard that bush-mechanics have been known to take 3 dead machines, and make one that is alive! Sounds crazy, but... ;)
,
27/10/2018 23:18
2
6
There is not way that the whole DNA of that animal survived the radiation through 42.000 years in any of its cells, so these scientists should stop lying people. That is that only possible for very small and genetically simple organisms such as nematodes. The only way to bring back that foal is by sequencing its genome and then through CRISP edit the DNA os a living cell from a common horse (or a Przewalski horse, which likely will be more similar in sequence and number of chromosomes) until you get a copy of the original one. Finding a living cell is not the way to clone any mammal from Pleistocene, and they know it perfectly.
Andrey, Yakutia
27/10/2018 16:32
4
1
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