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Researchers ‘wake up’ ancient mammoth cells

  • JAPAN NEWS-YOMIURI

    Yuka, a woolly mammoth extracted from permafrost in Siberia, is seen in 2013.

TOKYO >> New findings indicate that the resurrection of mammoths is not a fantasy, after cell nuclei extracted from the 28,000-year-old remains of a woolly mammoth were discovered to retain some function. The announcement came from a global research team that includes members from Kindai University in Osaka Prefecture.

When placed in the ova of mice, the nuclei developed to a point just before cellular division, according to a paper published last month in the British journal Scientific Reports.

The team, which comprises researchers from Japanese and Russian universities, has been working for about 20 years on a project to use cloning to resurrect mammoths, an animal that has long been extinct.

The cell nuclei used in the team’s recent findings were extracted from muscle and other tissue from Yuka, a female woolly mammoth about 11-1/2 feet long, excavated nearly intact in 2010 from permafrost in Siberia. When inserted into mouse ova, five of 43 nuclei developed just shy of splitting in two as a result of cell division.

Cell nuclei contain DNA, the so-called blueprint for life, and mouse ova have been found in experiments to have a reparative function for DNA. There had been a possibility that the mammoth’s DNA, damaged from being frozen for a such long time, was repaired and its biological functions invigorated.

“Yuka’s cell nuclei were more damaged than we thought, and it would be difficult to resurrect a mammoth as things stand,” said team member Kei Miyamoto, a lecturer in developmental biology at Kindai. “There’s a chance, if we can obtain better-preserved nuclei.”

Teruhiko Wakayama, a professor in reproductive biology at the University of Yamanashi’s Advanced Biotechnology Center, calls the development a first step.

“I hope they can determine to what extent the DNA was repaired and how much activity there was,” he said.

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