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A mammoth find- The world’s oldest DNA4 min read

February 26, 2021 3 min read

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A mammoth find- The world’s oldest DNA4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Imagine an elephant with curved tusks and a furry, woolly body. Have you puzzled out the animal I am referring to? Yup, I am talking about the elephant’s prehistoric cousin-the mammoth.

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Image: GIPHY

No, not her but this guy right here.

Study Resurrects Woolly Mammoth DNA to Explore the Cause of Their Extinction
Image: ScitechDaily

He was furry and tusky and died out almost 4000 years ago. Mammoths existed for millions of years, and the massive creatures dominated the ice age landscapes. They would roam the icy terrain, using their tusks to Burrough the ice. Their thick fur would even keep them warm. They were genetically designed for the cold. But could we ever know what this genetic design was?

ice age movie s GIF

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: Mammoths existed about 1.5 million years ago, and their last species, the Woolly Mammoth, died out about 4000 years ago. To give you some perspective, humans or homo sapiens appeared about 300,000 years ago.

No more guesswork

So far, all we knew about ancient mammoths was through their fossils. Scientists would look at the bones that survived in rocks and ice, and they would try to recreate the animal. But knowing what the animal did and how it lived had to always be left to conjecture. Scientists could only make their best guess, but it was hard to say for certain. That is, of course, until now. Scientists have discovered the oldest DNA yet, and it belongs to– you guessed it– the Mammoth family.

Woolly mammoth - Wikipedia
The fossilised skeleton of a Woolly Mammoth. Image: Wikipedia

From inside the massive molar of a gigantic Mammoth, embedded in Siberia’s permafrost, scientists have extracted the world’s oldest known DNA. The DNA that was found in North-Eastern Siberia is about 1.2 million years old! The permafrost, or permanently frozen ice in Siberia, provided a protective freezer for this fragile genetic material.

Russia Facts for Kids | Russia for Kids | Geography | People | Food
Siberia is a place in the Northern part of Russia. A lot of Siberia is covered in snow throughout the year. Image: KidsWorldTravelGuide

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: DNA or Deoxyribonucleic acid is the building block of any creature’s genes. It is in some way what makes us alive. You could think of DNA as a blueprint for your life. Each of your cells has about 3 metres of DNA, filled with instructions, squeezed inside it. All these instructions dictate what your cells will do.

The Ancient DNA

The DNA was discovered way back in the 1970s, but it was fragmented and hard to piece together. Without modern technology, it seemed impossible. However, now scientists finally have what they need. They’ve used computers to recreate the DNA of three ancient mammoths. The first mammoth that they found existed about 1.5 million years ago. The most recent mammoth whose DNA they found roamed the planet about 700,000 years ago.

Million-year-old DNA sheds light on the genomic history of mammoths | Nature
The teeth in which the DNA was found. Image: Nature

This DNA has already unlocked a treasure trove of history. How did the mammoth evolve from what it was a million years ago to its well-known, more recent cousin, the woolly mammoth? When and why did mammoths migrate from Siberia to North America? How were the heart rhythms of ancient mammoths suited to the freezing weather? How did they regulate their body temperatures? Where and how was their fat distributed? DNA holds the key to all these questions and so many more! Scientists say that their new DNA extraction techniques should allow them to look into the lives of even 2 million-year-old creatures!

Does this that we are going to know everything about Dinosaurs too?

No, the last dinosaurs existed about 65 million years ago, which is just too long for their fragile DNA to persist. So, we’re just going to have to rely on good old fossils for now.