A Mammoth Discovery

Now you’re talking! (courtesy of PhotoBucket)

Scientists from the Northeast Federal University in Yakutsk just made an awesome discovery on the Lyakhovsky Islands off the northeastern coast of Russia.

Buried in the ice was a female mammoth dating back 10,000 years.

“We suppose that the mammoth fell into water or got bogged down in a swamp, could not free herself and died,” explained Semyon Grigoriev, the leader of the expedition and head of the university’s Mammoth Museum.

And let me tell you, we are lucky this ancient beast died in such a manner. Its entire lower body was packed into pure ice and, as a result, researchers found something incredible when they poked the carcass below the belly.

Thick, dark blood flowed out of it. Mammoth blood.

The implications of this discovery are numerous, but number one on the list has got to be cloning. Finding mammoth blood is like John Hammond discovering dinosaur blood in the bodies of amber-encased mosquitoes and using it to stock Jurassic Park with prehistoric creatures.

Hey, Woolly Bully (courtesy of Discovery)

We have mammoth DNA and we have the technology, so I guess it’s only fitting that someone try to recreate this amazing animal. And it looks like that someone is none other than Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced scientist who claimed to have cloned human stem cells in 2004 but soon admitted to faking his results.

Woo-suk now heads up the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which will work jointly with Grigoriev to clone a woolly mammoth. For the latest developments in this ongoing story, stay tuned to National Geographic by going HERE.

So there’s the first big implication for this amazing discovery: we may someday go to a zoo whose main attraction will be the once-extinct woolly mammoth. Crazy, but there is another reason to celebrate this historic find, I think.

When the Russian researchers poked the mammoth’s belly and saw blood leak out, they noted that it was still in liquid form. How could this be possible in sub-zero-degree weather, you ask? The answer is cryoprotectant.

And no, that isn’t some kind of Eskimo deodorant, in case you were wondering.

Biology Online defines cryoprotectant as a “substance that is used to protect from the effects of freezing, largely by preventing large ice crystals from forming.” Some amphibians and fish that live in extremely cold climates—primarily near the poles—have this substance in them to minimize tissue damage from freezing temperatures.

Which brings me to my question: Could this same substance be genetically engineered into humans someday?

Jack could have used some cryoprotectants (courtesy of Warner Brothers)

Doing so would allow human beings to survive in much colder environments, which could come in handy if climate change leads to another ice age—or war leads to nuclear winter—whatever the case may be. At the very least, we could branch out into frozen wastelands and offer more convenient parking at the new Wal-Mart Antarctica location.

I guess what all this boils down to is a vision… a vision of myself on some uncharted and frozen tundra… wearing only shorts and a t-shirt thanks to the cryoprotectant running through me… riding on a nice, warm woolly mammoth the South Koreans made for me… enjoying the crisp, clean air and placing footsteps where they have never before existed.

Ah, the dream of a science nerd. But you have to admit that it is at least possible now, and all because some Russians stumbled across an old, hairy elephant in the ice.

Coincidence? I wonder…

Posted on May 31, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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