Prehistoric Earth was pretty cool. There were giant lizards walking around, giant feathered birds both on the ground and in the sky capable of ripping your head clean off, and thousands of species of animals that we will likely never see again. What more could you ask for? Though all of these animals deserve some respect in their own right, a lot of them are seemingly glossed over because they didn’t make the “super-cool extremely dangerous animals club,” especially by the general public.
But scientists, as always, found a way to give these animals the credit they deserve. Or more specifically, the woolly mammoth. Let’s take a trip all the way back to the frozen middle-of-nowhere that is Siberia, circa 2011.
Let’s Take A Step Back
Imagine you’re a villager in Yukagir, Siberia. You’re about to head off hunting with your buddies, all of you riding reindeer and holding high-powered rifles, searching for the next animal that’s dumb enough to make itself the next prize-winning addition to you and your family’s dinner for the next few weeks. You’re cracking jokes with your friends when you realize that one of your friends isn’t with you anymore. To your relief, you turn around and see him staring up dumbfoundedly at a wall of ice, facing away from the coast. Slowly, the group joins him, and it becomes apparent: you guys just found something pretty fantastic. Two years later, scientists are digging it out of the ice and are getting ready to ship it off to a museum. It was the frozen corpse of a young woolly mammoth, perfectly preserved in permafrost.
Looks like Manny from Ice Age has fallen upon some rough times. Nevertheless, the mammoth (officially named “Yuka”) has been the subject of numerous scientific experiments, mainly because her remains are so perfectly preserved that it allows scientists to work with tissue that would otherwise have completely decomposed. And recently, a team of Japanese scientists has put it to good use: for the first time in upwards of 28,000 years, these cells have shown signs of biological activity. Before you start conjuring up images of Jurassic Parks, keep in mind that this was not an easy feat: the cells had to be heavily modified and injected into the ovaries of mice (science’s favorite all-purpose testing animal) before they would show minor nuclear activity. It would go without saying that seeing these things walking around again is definitely a ways off.
The Process Made Simple
But how were we able to kickstart these very dead cells back to life? The study says it all, but really, anyone without a Ph.D. in biology is going to be able to understand any of it. Essentially, by shooting the dead nuclei of these cells into mouse oocytes, they began generating proteins via spindle assembly just as they had done before. Well, not exactly just as they had done before: turns out, being frozen for 28,000 years really does a number on biological matter. When these cells were thawed, there was still some serious damage done to them, so they were only able to achieve partial functionality. But, if we can find a way to bring these animals back to life, it could actually do wonders for climate change. If the mammoths are reintroduced to their natural habitats, they can keep the permafrost layer from melting and releasing an ungodly amount of CO2 into our atmosphere. How? By being reckless, heavy and dangerous animals.
An Achievement For The History Books
Regardless, this is still a major scientific breakthrough. Getting these cells to do anything has been out of our reach for a very long time. One of the members of the study, Kei Miyamoto, stated in an interview with AFP: “Until now, many studies focused on analyzing fossil DNA and not whether they still function.” This is likely because it was assumed that they wouldn’t, and even if they still could, we don’t possess the technology to zap them back to life. However, it seems as though we’ve been able to change that.