Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have sequenced most of the genome of wooly mammoths.
Thousands of years after the last woolly mammoth lumbered across the tundra, scientists have sequenced a whopping 50 percent of the beast's nuclear genome, they report in a new study. Earlier attempts to sequence the DNA of these icons of the Ice Age produced only tiny quantities of code. The new work marks the first time that so much of the genetic material of an extinct creature has been retrieved. Not only has the feat provided insight into the evolutionary history of mammoths, but it is a step toward realizing the science-fiction dream of being able to resurrect a long-gone animal…
Thus far the mammoth genome exists only in bits and pieces: it has not yet been assembled. The researchers are awaiting completion of the genome of the African savanna elephant, a cousin of the woolly mammoth, which will serve as a road map for how to reconstruct the extinct animal's genome.
Armed with complete genomes for the mammoth and its closest living relative, the Asian elephant, scientists may one day be able to bring the mammoth back from the beyond. "A year ago I would have said this was science fiction," Schuster remarks. But as a result of this sequencing achievement, he now believes one could theoretically modify the DNA in the egg of an elephant to match that of its furry cousin by artificially introducing the appropriate substitutions to the genetic code. Based on initial comparisons of mammoth and elephant DNA, he estimates that around 400,000 changes would produce an animal that looks a lot like a mammoth; an exact replica would require several million.
Here's hoping that researchers can find enough DNA to sequence the genomes of saber-tooth cats, ground sloths, and glyptodonts.
The Scientific American article can be found here.