June 4th, 2013 by James Ayre
A frozen woolly mammoth carcass was recently discovered in Siberia which — amazingly — still contains liquid blood in it. The mammoth is estimated to be about 10,000 years old, and was discovered in the remote New Siberian Islands, in the Arctic. The region is relatively cold — getting as low as -10 Celsius, which helps to explain the amazing state of preservation. The animal is estimated to have been around 60 years of age when it died and was frozen.
The story of the mammoth’s discovery is pretty crazy: “We suppose that the mammoth fell into water or got bogged down in a swamp, could not free herself and died,” expedition leader Semyon Grigoryev told the Siberian Times. “Due to this fact the lower part of the body, including the lower jaw, and tongue tissue, was preserved very well.”
The most amazing part though — as the researchers cracked the ice surrounding the mammoth’s belly — thick dark blood started flowing out of the cracks. How is there still liquid blood in a 10,000-year-old corpse — it almost sounds like something out of an old B-movie or something.
“This is the most astonishing case in my entire life,” Grigoryev told the Agence France-Presse. “How was it possible for it to remain in liquid form? And the muscle tissue is also red, the color of fresh meat.”
The wooly mammoth’s teeth, bones and muscle tissue, were also collected along with the blood — all of which was sent to labs in Yakutsk. It’s been speculated by some researchers that perhaps there are compounds in mammoth blood that act as an antifreeze.
It’s worth noting that the finding is very likely the result of the extensive warming that the Arctic has been experiencing in recent years — the region where the frozen carcass was found has been experiencing significant melting of its permafrost as a result of the rising temperatures. Perhaps other discoveries such as this will emerge in the coming years as a result of the warming? Intact carcasses of other extinct megafauna animals?
The discovery has reignited the debate about the possibility of cloning the mammoth, or other extinct species. The idea seems to have the public imagination, but also is very controversial. “In 2012, North-Eastern Federal University signed a deal with the South Korean foundation that cloned the world’s first dog in 2005,” with the intention of exploring the possibility. If a mammoth is cloned, it would be done via an elephant surrogate. Is that ethical? Given how little we know about mammoths, there is a real possibility that such an elephant surrogate could die while giving birth.
As I wrote in a previous article:
In my opinion, such projects are solely about human vanity, and offer no real benefits. Bringing an animal back from extinction this way is practically impossible and very resource intensive. Even if the cloning process was more reliable and produced healthier animals than it does, without significant genetic diversity species simply can’t survive.
Bringing back even a couple of different specimens would simply result in animals that are significantly inbred and very susceptible to environmental changes and disease, and probably developmental disorders. Not to mention the fact that the world that these animals lived in is long gone. And also that species evolve in mutualism with the myriad numbers of bacteria, viruses, and other small organisms that live within and on them, and also those that constitute their environment — without such species, animals can’t survive. Without the microbes that live within us, we could not survive for even a few minutes.
The world is an entirely different one now, and would not be benefited by bringing a mammoth back. If resources are to be spent anywhere, it should no doubt be to stem the enormous rate of extinction and habitat loss that is currently occurring. It’s been estimated “that if the current rate of human disruption of the biosphere continues, that one half of all of the world’s multicellular life forms will be extinct by 2100.”
As I noted in that article — does it make any sense to spend significant money on the resurrection of a single individual from an extinct species while the vast majority of the world’s large species are now rapidly heading towards extinction?
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