I thought this story was very interesting. Perfect for a Sunday. Click here for original.
Bringing back extinct animals by cloning through ancient DNA is the dream of many – from conservationists to Spielberg – but it has not come to fruition yet. However, we may be a step closer thanks to an incredible discovery made in Siberia.
Scientists have reportedly managed to extract liquid blood from the mummified remains of a 42,000-year-old extinct baby horse.
In August last year, the perfectly preserved remains of the young male foal were discovered in the Batagaika crater in Yakutia, northern Russia.
The tiny fossilized specimen is thought to be a foal of the long-extinct Lenskaya horses that roamed Yakutia, the coldest region in Russia, back in the Upper Paleolithic (Late Stone Age). It was only one or two weeks old when it died, and remained in such amazing condition that even its hair was preserved.
Now, researchers at the Mammoth Museum, part of the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, discovered much of its insides were also kept in incredible condition, thanks to its favorable burial conditions – soft mud that then froze. So much so that they managed to take liquid blood samples from heart vessels, which they are now calling the “oldest blood in the world”.
“The autopsy shows beautifully preserved internal organs. Samples of liquid blood were taken from heart vessels… The muscle tissues preserved their natural reddish color,” Dr Semyon Grigoryev, head of the Mammoth Museum, told The Siberian Times.
“We can now claim that this is the best preserved Ice Age animal ever found in the world.”
Now, the researchers are hoping to collect viable cells from the foal in order to clone the species, which the researchers readily admit will hopefully pave the way to the ultimate goal: cloning a woolly mammoth.
The scientists from the University and the South Korean Sooam Biotech Research Foundation have said they are “confident of success” that they will be able to extract cells from the foal to clone the extinct animal and bring it back to life, however, it is not clear whether the cells would come from the blood sample.
To clone the animal they would have to extract and grow viable cells from the ancient DNA, something that has never been successfully done before. The researchers admitted that they have been unsuccessful in over 20 attempts so far, but are so confident they will ultimately succeed they have already picked out the type of living horse that will be used.
Even if they managed to partially reconstruct the DNA of the foal, sequencing the complete genome of an extinct animal is almost impossible, so inserting the partial genes into the living embryo of a close-living relative is the most viable method. For a woolly mammoth, this would be the Asian elephant, for the Lenskaya horse, they have chosen the Korean horse, a successor to the Mongolian horse, one of the oldest, and hardiest, breeds.
So, the successful resurrection of a long-extinct animal could perhaps happen sooner than we thought. However, bringing back an extinct animal is not just a technical matter but an ethical one too. We don’t want to end up in the position, for example, where scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.