A Siberian-led international team finds 10,000 year old red 'meat' on female remains excavated from permafrost in Sakha Republic.
'It is the best preserved adult mammoth trunk ever found. Its red meat, skin and hairs are in good condition. It looks like a freshly killed animal meat'. Pictured left to right are Sergey Fedorov (Mammoth Museum, North Eastern Federal University/NEFU), Teodor Obada (Academy of Science, Moldova), Alexei Tikhonov (Zoological Museum, Russian Academy of Science, St. Petersburg), Daniel Fisher (University of Michigan), Gavril Novgorodov (Mammoth Museum, NEFU), Konstantine (Mammoth Museum, NEFU), and Semyon Grigoriev (Mammoth Museum, NEFU). Picture: Victor Makarov
The recent discovery is causing major excitement among world teams seeking to complete the genome sequencing of the extinct creature, heralding attempts to bring the woolly mammoth back to life, The Siberian Times can exclusively reveal. The trunk was examined by Russian, American, South Korean and Moldovan scientists on a recent expedition to the north of Sakha - also known as Yakutia.
'We found a perfectly preserved trunk,' said Semyon Grigoriev, head of the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk, part of the Institute of Applied Ecology of the North at the North Eastern Federal University.
'It is the best preserved adult mammoth trunk ever found. Its red meat, skin and hairs are in good condition. It looks like a freshly killed animal meat.'
The trunk has been brought to Yakutsk, the regional capital, as scientists from South Korea, the US, Canada, Holland and elsewhere seek permission from the Russian authorities to export samples for detailed DNA analysis.
'We have many partners now, and they all want samples,' said Grigoriev.
The trunk has been brought to Yakutsk, the regional capital, as scientists from South Korea, the US, Canada, Holland and elsewhere seek permission from the Russian authorities to export samples for detailed DNA analysis. Picture: Semyon Grigoriev
The carcass was originally found in May 2013 on Malolyakhovskiy island and transported in a frozen condition to remote Kazachiy, in the north of the Sakha Republic, where it was examined by the international team.
Earlier this year, the same 10,000 year old year old mammoth remains hit the headlines around the world after a 'blood sample' preserved in the permafrost was extracted for analysis. This blood research is still going on, but the existence of the trunk only came to light on the recent August expedition when Western documentary-makers joined scientists.
The expert said that tests in Russia have so far produced 'no clear results' and the there are plans to send samples to the University of Manitoba, Aarhus University, and Lund University, as well as to South Korea for further research.
'We took it out of the icehouse and it just laid outdoors,' said Dr Grigoriev, explaining the moment when the experts had the chance to scrutinise the mammoth remains for the first time.
'For three days, it didn't fully melt, but we didn't need this. It was important to save some part of the biological material frozen inside. The trunk was detached from the beginning. It melted faster.
'We thawed it for one day, but not completely, of course. We cleaned it and froze it again. The trunk is the most valuable part of the remains at the moment.
'We understood this when we saw the red soft tissues inside. It looked like the meat of a freshly killed animal. It is red and we can see the muscle.
'It smells like not very fresh meat. Sometimes the corpse remains of ancient animals are so decomposed that the smell is unbearable. It all depends on the preservation, here it was better and the smell was not so strong.'
'Of course, we hope to find so called 'living cell' in the samples. That means we can get the least damaged DNA and first of all - nuclear DNA'. Picture: Semyon Grigoriev
Earlier there were suspicions that marks on the beast indicated it had been killed by man. Subject to further tests, the current theory is that the woolly mammoth died perhaps from drowning after becoming mired in an ice hole or frozen swamp, or possibly from illness.
Grigoriev described the 'excitement, the feeling of discovery, when every minute, every hour, brings something new' as the scientists examined the frozen remains.
He explained: 'Everybody is talking about about cloning, but we should understand that it is a very complicated task. Of course, we hope to find so called 'living cell' in the samples. That means we can get the least damaged DNA and first of all - nuclear DNA. But this is only a midway point.
'The next question is how to use an elephant in the cloning process. The evolutionary path of the mammoth and the elephant diverged a long time ago. So even if we could get a 'living cell' we need to have a special method of cloning. The Koreans are working on getting the clones from different species, but, you see, it is not so fast.
'If we do not get 'living cell', we will have a longer route. Then we should create artificial DNA. It could take 50 or 60 years.
'Apart from cloning, these samples will give us an opportunity to completely decode the DNA of the mammoth, and we will be able to decipher the nuclear DNA, which stores a lot of information.
'So we have a unique opportunity to understand how the mammoth's blood system, worked, its muscles and the trunk. Of course, we are engaged primarily in fundamental science. It is important to us to learn all possible details about mammoth. Maybe our findings will be used by applied science, but now it is early to think of it. And I repeat once again that cloning - despite our discovery, it is a very distant prospect, involving years and decades of work'.
'Grigoriev described the 'excitement, the feeling of discovery, when every minute, every hour, brings something new' as the scientists examined the frozen remains'. Picture: Semyon Grigoriev
The significance of the recent find was underscored by US academic Daniel Fisher, Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as well as Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan, where he is also Curator and Director at the Museum of Paleontology.
'The Malolyakhovskiy mammoth is quite variable in its degree of preservation, with some parts in excellent condition, as good, or in some cases slightly better, than anything we have seen before, and other parts that are not especially well preserved at all,' he told The Siberian Times.
'This is consistent with Semyon Grigoriev's initial report. Parts of the body that are very well preserved include the oral region, the front of the chest, and the lower portions of the front legs.'
Asked about Grigoriev's claim that the mammoth's trunk is the best preserved in the history of paleontology, he said: 'Yes, I would agree with this, with the additional qualification that we have seen an excellent trunk of a juvenile on Lyuba, but this is the best preserved trunk of an adult mammoth.'
Lyuba was found in 2007 on the Yamal Peninsula, also in Siberia.
The new specimen 'will provide a better idea of how the trunk anatomy of woolly mammoth differs from that of elephants,' Professor Fisher said.
'We have a general idea of this now, but this specimen will give a more detailed understanding. How much we will be able to find out about how the trunk works is unknown until we get further into the investigation. What we learn may also depend on finding collaborators knowledgeable about elephant anatomy.'
More generally the latest carcass 'will contribute new insights that will be relevant for the study of mammoths everywhere, not just in Russia,' said the American professor. He is confident that scientists can unlock secrets about this mammoth's life from studying its well-preserved remains.
'I expect to return to Yakutsk early next year to participate in additional work on the specimen with my Yakutian colleagues.'
The female mammoth was believed to have died at an age of 50 or 60.
Researchers are preparing for the opening of a laboratory to be involved in the separation of 'live' cells from ancient remains. Pictures: Semyon Grigoriev
'I hope to learn more about this animal's life from studying its tusks, and if that can be done, we might use one or both tusks to develop new methods of interpreting tusks,' he said. 'Since this is a moderately old female, her tusk should hold a record of her calving history, but we will have to study it from different perspectives to be sure we can really get such information.'
He believes additional research is required on liquid resembling blood that was gathered from the remains as it was removed from its ice-clad grave in the Novosibirsk - or New Siberian - Islands in May.
'I saw some samples that were said to 'look like' the 'blood' samples, but I did not see the actual samples that first appeared to resemble blood. I suspect this is mainly something else, but I did not have access to the necessary equipment or time to do a definitive analysis of this material on site.'
'I would say additional investigation is needed', Professor Fisher said.
The scientists were monitored by film crews from the US and UK - CB Films and Renegade Pictures - as they went about their work, with documentaries expected on the National Geographic Channel and Britain's Channel 4 next year. So far only certain samples, including the trunk, have been flown to Yakutsk.
'Now it is in Yakutsk and we can thoroughly examine muscle tissue, blood vessels,' said Grigoriev. 'The blood system of the mammoth is different from that of the elephant. They lived in a cold climate, and the blood system was more extensive. It was a complex of adaptation and we should examine it thoroughly.'
Left to right, Semyon Grigoriev (Mammoth Museum, NEFU) and Alexei Tikhonov (Zoological Museum, Russian Academy of Science, St. Petersburg) during Yana 2012 expedition in Yakutia. Picture: Semyon Grigoriev
This week, a fund raising initiative has been started to fund joint research by the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk and South Korean laboratory SOAAM 'Revival of the Mammoth'.
Currently researchers are preparing for the opening of a laboratory to be involved in the separation of 'live' cells from ancient remains.
'We plan to start the laboratory by the end of the year. Joint expeditions to find the remains of mammoths and other ancient remains are completed, and now scientists are beginning to analyse the materials.
'Some samples will be taken for study in Korea. In the laboratory, which we plan to open will be the held the first stage of the research - the allocation of those 'live' cells, on which depends the future of cloning the mammoth,' said Grigoriev.
The laboratory will study not only the remains of a mammoth, but other relic animals.
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