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First attempt fails to extract nucleus from woolly mammoth cell for cloning

By Anna Liesowska
18 March 2015

Scientists remain confident of one day bringing back the beast to roam again in Siberia.

'For the successful cloning of a mammoth we need more preserved cells than the samples we obtained from the Malolyahovsky mammoth.' Picture: Nikolay Pschennikov/North-Eastern Federal Universtity 

The disappointment over the failure to find well-preserved cells was revealed in Yakutsk by Dr Hwang Woo Sul, chief of South Korea's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, but the setback has made them more determined.

And Tuesday saw the opening of at the North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) in Yakutsk of Russia's first-ever centre for studying the DNA of mammoths and other extinct species.  

'We have identified intact cells in the skin of the Malolyakhovsky Mammoth, discovered in Yakutia in 2013,' he said. 'But during an attempt to extract the nucleus they were destroyed. Here, in Yakutia, we shall take more samples for further research. We shall keep trying to extract the cell's nuclei with a view to cloning a mammoth.'

He emphasised: 'The University has all required know-how and knowledge for further research into mammoth cells.'

Hope of a breakthrough comes from both new searches for mammoth remains preserved in the permafrost, and further technological breakthroughs. 

'For the successful cloning of a mammoth we need more preserved cells than the samples we obtained from the Malolyahovsky mammoth,' he said. 

Taking samples

Dr Hwang Woo Sul gives master class to Yakutian scientists on how to take samples properly. Picture: YSIA

'After arriving in Yakutsk, we did additional sampling, and also planned the new expeditions. We also need to develop new techniques, because the material is very difficult to work with.'

He made clear: 'I am confident in the success of our joint project with NEFU, and the rector of the university is convinced too. There is a good technology, high-grade scientists and the necessary material. Cloning is the only way to restore extinct species - and species that are on the brink of the extinction. I am sure that in future the NEFU will be at the centre of restoration of such animals.

'We will continue the search for new materials and samples. We need a cell that can share information. If we can find a sample that is not only well preserved, but in which biochemical processes take place, we will be able to fertilise an Asian elephant using selected materials.'

The return of the extinct giants could be a boon for Yakutia, also known as the Sakha Republic, he said. 

'I think the if in Yakutia will be cloned, living mammoths, it was another reason to be proud of your region.'

Taking samples


Taking samples


Taking samples

'I am confident in the success of our joint project with NEFU, and the rector of the university is convinced too. There is a good technology, high-grade scientists and the necessary material.' Pictures: YSIA

TASS news agency said it could take three years to extract the nucleus from a mammoth's cell, citing Semyon Grigoriev, chief of the Museum of the Mammoth at the university. However, he explained he spoke about not the cell nuclear but nuclear DNA.

The first steps to extract the nuclear DNA were taken on Monday, when scientists under the guidance of Hwang Woo Sul took new samples from mammoth bone marrow - see our report here.

'The fact is that our Korean colleagues took the additional new samples for work. Dr Hwand said that they will study the samples for several years, hoping to find some suitable material for work.

'We continue our work in our research centre and we will work in two directions: the search for the living cells and the study of ancient DNA. In the second direction we plan to extract nuclear DNA indeed, but I cannot say anything about exact dates for this. 

'The specialists start working in the coming days. We have a big advantage, the carcass of the mammoth is here, with us, and we can take every sample we need.

'I also hope that there will be other similar finds and because we have now a proper equipment and the specialists here, we could take the samples and start work on the search of the living cells immediately.'

Malolyakhovsky mammoth


Malolyakhovsky mammoth

'To clone in the classic sense of the word on the material, which is stored in the permafrost for several thousand years, at the current stage of development of science is impossible.' Pictures: Semyon Grigoryev

The deputy Director of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Aleksey Tikhonov, was more cautious over cloning.

'To clone in the classic sense of the word on the material, which is stored in the permafrost for several thousand years, at the current stage of development of science is impossible,' he said. 

'Firstly, if the organism is dead, there cannot be any living cells. When we talk about living cells we mean the intact cells, namely, cells that have retained their membrane structure and nucleus. It is believed that this is enough to try to carry out the procedure of cloning.' 

At the same time he is optimistic about the development of local science. 'Our Yakutian colleagues now have this centre, modern laboratories, where NEFU students will be trained. 

'This is the main thing that we gained during our scientific work on the mammoth here. This, perhaps, may be the main result of cloning a mammoth - Yakutian molecular biologists.'

Comments (1)

ANY one interested in Colombian Mammoths should be aware of the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, SD. It's a great place to visit. Huge bldg with 3 acre sinkhole, that's being excavated. So far, about 60 mammoths skeletons found, dating from the Ice Age, in situ. They also have a spectacular reconstruction skeleton of a Short faced cave bear, which could stand 5 ft, 2 inches high at the Shoulder, standing on ALL FOURS! This was 1 massive bear! Well worth the visit, and lots of other places to see, things to do in Black Hills region of SD. Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse monument in progress, Bear Country (drive thru animal park with lots of BEARS!), gold mines, wild horses, Badlands, Deadwood, SD School of Mines & Tech FREE geology museum (has replicas of gold nuggets, T-Rex skull, lots of other fossils, minerals, etc), Black Hills Institute, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Mon, lots of national forest lands, etc. One of my favorite places to visit.
Nancy, Ohio, USA
29/04/2015 14:33
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