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The return of the woolly mammoth, 4,000 years later14 min read

September 30, 2021 8 min read

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The return of the woolly mammoth, 4,000 years later14 min read

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At this point, you’re probably riddled with questions. What’s the point of bringing back the woolly mammoth? What’s the difference between a Mammophant and the real deal? How on Earth do you bring back an extinct animal? And so on. Well, hold your horses or …mammoths?. I am not a microbiologist, but I will try and answer these questions to the best of my abilities. Alright then, let’s dive right in.

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How do you bring back an extinct animal?

Well, the answer lies in the fundamental building blocks of almost all living creatures: The creature’s DNA. 

Ancient Skeleton Of Largest Woolly Mammoth In Private Hands On Sale In  France
The fossilised skeleton of the woolly mammoth. Image: Newsweek

Have you ever wondered how we know so much about these extinct creatures anyway? Sure, we have their fossilised bones that we’ve pieced together, but what about the rest? How do we know woolly mammoths were woolly and not blubbery like seals? And how do we know some dinosaurs flew while others walked? It’s not like we had prehistoric scientists walking around and documenting everything. Well, the secret lies in the genes.

So, what are genes?

The question should be, what aren’t genes? Genes are everything. Every living creature’s genes dictate almost everything about what its existence will be like. Your genes dictate the colour of your eyes, whether you’ll be an aggressive person, what life-long disability or disease you may contract, and the list goes on. 

But how?

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Before get better acquainted with genes, let’s meet the yarn from which they are woven. Yup, it’s time to get better acquainted with the mother of all computer codes and programs: Your DNA.

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The nucleus within the cell.

Where is this DNA hiding?

Every single cell in your body contains a brain or a nucleus. The nucleus, in turn, packs 23 criss-crossed spaghetti looking objects called chromosomes. Stuffed inside those chromosomes are incredibly long strings of DNA intertwined together and tightly packed in like a ball of yarn. And within the microscopic twisty DNA lies a code.

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Chromosomes

If you were to untangle the DNA within a single cell, you would find end up with 3 whole metres of microscopic DNA. That’s one and a half times as long as your bed.

Animation Dna GIF by The Explainer Studio
What are Chromosomes? Relationship with DNA, Location and Structure
Image: Microscope Master

Take a good look at this image:

DNA - structure

The two long twisty sticks could be likened to the skeleton of the DNA. These sticks are made up of hard substances like sugar molecules. But what we’re concerned with are the rungs of the DNA ladder.

The code for life

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Do you see the coloured sticks jutting of the two twisty longer strings? These sticks are the four basic chemicals that make up the DNA of every living creature to have ever walked, crawled or grown on this planet.

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You could say that the only thing that makes all the difference and creates a separation between you, me, and a chimpanzee is the sequence in which these chemical bases are arranged.

Humans and Apes from the Same Ancestor?? | Alpha Omega Institute
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Could our bodies be are simply a collection of naturally occurring chemicals?

ACGT
Image: National Human Genome Research Institute

The four fundamental chemicals (sticks) that bind together to create your DNA have been titled A, C, T, and G. And along the long strings of DNA, these four elements form various patterns to generate a unique code.

DNA is made up of genes or genes are made up of DNA? | Socratic
Genes read segments of your DNA to generate proteins. Image: Socratic

Segments, large and small, of these sequences, form genes, and these genes are essentially instructions. Your cells read the patterns of letters within the gene segment like a recipe and cook up various delicacies or proteins.

How to cook up a human

So, we now know that genes create proteins, but so what? Well, proteins are the building blocks of your cells, hormones, organs, and ultimately you. That’s right, the various proteins that our genes cook up come together in different unique formations to build the many features of a body.

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Did you know that both your hair cells and nail cells are made of the same protein known as Keratin?

Image: Pinterest

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Don’t forget, you’re an animal too

Do Identical Twins Have The Same DNA?

Here’s a freaky fact: you share 96% of your genes with apes? Yup, that’s right, humans are, for the most part, apes. Did you also know that all humans share 99.9% of their DNA? If it weren’t for the tiniest — needle in the world’s most stacked haystack — differences, we would all be the same. Yet, every living creature (except a few identical twins) has a unique DNA pattern. And even those twins have different and unique genes at work during the cause of their lives.

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The only reason that all of us on this planet are so different yet similar is evolution. The theory of evolution suggests that all creatures have a common ancestor and that over millions of years, through the tiniest alterations in our genes, we’ve become the odd bunch of creatures that grace this wonderful planet today.

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So, the question remains, are we all really that similar?
Are two identical twins with the same DNA really the same?
If not, what is it that distinguishes us from each other?

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Woah! that was a lot! Relax a bit, and come back to learn about what all this biology has to do with the woolly mammoth.

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