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The remains of an 8,000 year old lunch: an extinct steppe bison's tail

By The Siberian Times reporter
01 December 2016

Eaten by an ancient cave lion or bear, only the tail was left, preserved by the Siberian permafrost.

Russian and South Korean scientists are planning the world's first cloning involving a Canadian wood bison now in Siberia. Picture: Maria Vasilyeva

Our exclusive pictures come as scientists begin cloning experiments which will lead to the return of this variety of ancient steppe bison, part of the scenery in the woolly mammoth era. 

Dr Semyon Grigoryev, the director of Mammoth Museum, North-Eastern Federal University said the tail was uncovered in the north of the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, this summer. 'It was found in Abyisky Ulus (district) in August, in the basin of Indigirka River,' he said. 

'The exact age is not established yet, it will be clear after tests. But I can say, it is not younger than 8,000 years.'

Bison's tail


Bison's tail


Bison's tail

Our exclusive pictures come as scientists begin cloning experiments which will lead to the return of this variety of ancient steppe bison, part of the scenery in the woolly mammoth era. Pictures: Semyon Grigoryev

The experts are pondering 'why only the tail was left' but there is a huge clue, namely prehistoric tooth marks of a predator. 'Judging by the gnawed base of the tail, the bison could have been the victim of predators, like cave lions or cave bears,' he said.

Another possibility is ancient tigers. 

DNA is being extracted from the tail in Yakutsk, capital of  Yakutia - also known as the Sakha Republic - and genome sequencing will be conducted in South Korea.

The find comes as scientists are taking the first steps to cloning bison as they begin a process which - they are confident - will one day see the ancient steppe species return to Siberia. 

Map

'It was found in Abyisky Ulus (district) in August, in the basin of Indigirka River.' Picture: The Siberian Times

Russian and South Korean scientists are planning the world's first cloning involving a Canadian wood bison now in Siberia. The surrogate mother will be a cow.

'Our Korean peers have already done crossbreed cloning,' said Dr Grigoryev. 'But no one yet did cross species cloning.'

The teams from the Mammoth Museum of the North-Eastern Federal University, Yakutsk, and Dr Hwang Woo Suk's Sooam Biotech laboratories in Seoul are co-operating on a number of cloning projects, including the ultimate prize of restoring the woolly mammoth to its native Siberian habitat. 

Some cloning options are likely to involve surrogate mothers from different species, for example the expected use of elephants to incubate the returning mammoth. 

Mammoth Museum laboratory


Mammoth Museum laboratory

The teams from the Mammoth Museum of the North-Eastern Federal University, Yakutsk, and Dr Hwang Woo Suk's Sooam Biotech laboratories in Seoul are co-operating on a number of cloning projects. Pictures: NEFU

The tail of the steppe bison found this summer is likely to contain genetic material that will be helpful in coding the extinct species. The experiments with the bison are seen as a step on the path to this end. 

Dr Grigoryev said: 'We decided to use a cow as a surrogate mother... Our Korean colleagues already have an experience of cloning cows. And it will not affect the results much. If the experiment will be successful we will get 99.8% newborn bison. 

'It is very important for our project on cloning ancient animals to overcome the species barrier. As of now, no-one managed to do this and the success of interspecies cloning can give us hope for the revival of extinct and preservation of endangered species. 

'Of course, the cloning of modern wooden bison, which is next of kin to the ancient bison (steppe bison), is kind of training before the revival of ancient Siberian bison. 

Wood bisons in Yakutia


Wood bisons in Yakutia


Wood bisons in Yakutia


Wood bisons in Yakutia

'If we prove that these species are identical, we can release the Canadian wood bison into the wild.' Pictures: Maria Vasilyeva

'But there is also more practical meaning of our experiments with bison. We and our Korean colleagues are doing the DNA analysis to compare the genome of ancient and modern bison. This is the priority task, which has a practical importance. 

'If we prove that these species are identical, we can release the Canadian wood bison into the wild. For now they live in special enclosures and as they are considered to be a foreign species, they cannot be released into the wild.

'Modern genetic technologies allow to make a full genome sequencing in a couple of months, but it is quite expensive. We can limit for example with partial sequencing of the parts of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, and the result will be almost the same. 

'Anyway, we have started only this year and we hope to finish our work in a couple of years or so. Yesterday we took samples from the tail of the ancient bison, which was found this summer in Abyisky district, for genetic studies.' 

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