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Discovery of 'mammoth blood' spurs cloning excitement

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 31st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Ever since "Jurassic Park," the idea of cloning a prehistoric beast such as a dinosaur or woolly mammoth has fueled the human imagination. Now, Russian researchers say they've recovered blood samples from a 10,000-year-old mammoth carcass in Siberia. Many scientists are quick to discount the claim, saying it could be something else entirely.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "What makes the news here is that they have the liquid," biologist Stephan Schuster says. Schuster, at Penn State and was one of the scientists who decoded the woolly mammoth genome several years ago adds that "this could also be water that is now thawing and is running out with organic compounds that are in the carcass."

However, the research team from North-Eastern Federal University in the Siberian city of Yakutsk says its blood.

"The blood is very dark," Semyon Grigoriev, who headed the expedition to the Lyakhovsky Islands, says.

Grigoriev says the sample was retrieved in the Siberian Arctic. "It was found in ice cavities below the belly, and when we broke these cavities with a poll pick, the blood came running out," he said in a press release. "Interestingly, the temperature at the time of excavation was -7 to -10 degrees C [14 to 19 degrees Fahrenheit]. It may be assumed that the blood of mammoths had some cryo-protective properties," he said.

It remains very difficult for Schuster, along with other experts to render judgment on the claims, as the only information available on the find is what's in the press.

"I have no doubt that they have found something interesting, but what exactly it is ... is hard to say at this moment," Daniel Fisher, an expert on mammoths at the University of Michigan says.

Another theory proffered by Schuster is that it's conceivable that the fluid contains natural antifreeze. Experts have found that to be the case for lots of modern-day organisms in chilly environments. "It could come from the breakdown of biopolymers," he said. "You have a lot of small organic components that would have the properties of being cryo-protective."

In addition, preserved muscle tissue from the carcass of a female mammoth takes on a reddish tinge when cut.

According to the Russians, the partial female carcass is unusually well-preserved. Fragments of the mammoth's muscle tissues "have a natural red color of fresh meat," Grigoriev reported. This is not unusual as there have been previous reports about the recovery of mammoth meat that's good enough to eat.

Scientists have said that a woolly mammoth could be cloned sometime in the next five years. Schuster and other researchers involved in studying mammoth genetics however are skeptical that there'd be enough intact DNA in any thawed-out sample to do the deed. So far, the best places to find mammoth DNA have been from the teeth, bones and hair rather than from the muscles or tendons - and even then, the pickings have been slim.

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