The very first in-depth inquiry into the genome sequence of the woolly mammoth is at an end. A lot has been discovered about this hairy beast that lived during the Ice Age in prehistoric times.
The woolly mammoth genome deciphering has yielded valuable evidence of how this giant animal adapted to the extremely cold conditions In the arctic. The mammoth’s genes that were a far cry from those of its elephant relatives were responsible for skin thickness and hair growth, not to mention adipose tissue and insulin sensitivity. The genetic links with a particular shape in skulls, stubby tails and tiny ears were all there too.
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One special gene in the woolly mammoth was responsible for heat and cold sensitivity. It was identified as well. The mammoth has been extinct for quite a while now. What exactly makes a mammoth what it is has finally been discovered on the genetic level.
Mammoths are kissing cousins of modern day elephants. But they differ via certain elements and behavioral characteristics too. Woolly mammoths trod the tundra about 10,000 years ago. Many carcasses have been found of these huge pachyderms and their bones have been recovered from various sites as well.
The woolly mammoth has been depicted in paintings on the inner walls of caves by prehistoric man too. The hump of fat on the back of the woolly mammoth was probably a layer of brown fat. At least that is what the clues point towards.
The erstwhile attempts at sequencing mammoth genes were at best haphazard or rickety. But now for the first time such a thing has been made a sure-fire possibility. Genes from two woolly mammoths and three Asian elephants were compared in the lab by scientists. What they found was of great significance.
The genomes were then compared to that of the African elephant, a fiercer cousin of the Asian elephant. About 1.4 million genetic markers were found to be specific to the woolly mammoth. After computer analysis all was settled. The genes that belonged to the mammoth were responsible for all its features down to the last strands of coarse brown hair.
The mammoth genes were then further compared with how genetic sequencing occurs in mice. This brought fresh evidence to light about how things occur on a genetic level. Scientists have however warned that knowledge about genes from carcasses of woolly mammoths doesn’t equal knowing how the genomes in a full-fledged live woolly mammoth really functioned.
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"This is by far the most comprehensive study to look at the genetic changes that make a woolly mammoth a woolly mammoth," said study author Vincent Lynch, PhD, assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago. "They are an excellent model to understand how morphological evolution works, because mammoths are so closely related to living elephants, which have none of the traits they had."