Complete Woolly Mammoth Genome Sequenced

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth.

A US team is already attempting to study the animals’ characteristics by inserting mammoth genes into elephant stem cells.

Current Biology – Complete Genomes Reveal Signatures of Demographic and Genetic Declines in the Woolly Mammoth


•Complete high-quality genomes from two woolly mammoths were sequenced and analyzed
•40,000-year time difference between samples enabled calibration of molecular clock
•Demographic inference identified two severe bottlenecks in the species’ history
•One of the last surviving mammoths had low heterozygosity and signs of inbreeding


The processes leading up to species extinctions are typically characterized by prolonged declines in population size and geographic distribution, followed by a phase in which populations are very small and may be subject to intrinsic threats, including loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding. However, whether such genetic factors have had an impact on species prior to their extinction is unclear; examining this would require a detailed reconstruction of a species’ demographic history as well as changes in genome-wide diversity leading up to its extinction. Here, we present high-quality complete genome sequences from two woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius). The first mammoth was sequenced at 17.1-fold coverage and dates to ∼4,300 years before present, representing one of the last surviving individuals on Wrangel Island. The second mammoth, sequenced at 11.2-fold coverage, was obtained from an ∼44,800-year-old specimen from the Late Pleistocene population in northeastern Siberia. The demographic trajectories inferred from the two genomes are qualitatively similar and reveal a population bottleneck during the Middle or Early Pleistocene, and a more recent severe decline in the ancestors of the Wrangel mammoth at the end of the last glaciation. A comparison of the two genomes shows that the Wrangel mammoth has a 20% reduction in heterozygosity as well as a 28-fold increase in the fraction of the genome that comprises runs of homozygosity. We conclude that the population on Wrangel Island, which was the last surviving woolly mammoth population, was subject to reduced genetic diversity shortly before it became extinct.

The Long Now Foundation is supporting a team based at Harvard University which is using genetic engineering techniques to insert mammoth genes into living elephant cells.

The foundation says it has placed mammoth genes involved in blood, fat and hair into elephant stem cells in order to study the effects of these genes.

The researchers hope to produce mammoth red blood cells to see how much oxygen they might have carried and so learn more about the physiology of the animals. Similar tests, they claim, can be done to investigate how their fat and hair grew.

The Long Now Foundation’s stated aim is to insert synthetically-created mammoth genetic material inside an elephant egg, which they would then place in a zoo elephant. It believes that cloning attempts can begin by 2018.

In 2014, Harvard’s George Church reported he was inserting three key genes from woolly mammoths into Asian elephant cells, with the hope of eventually creating a hybrid between the two that will ideally be more mammoth-like than elephant-like.

They already started a Pleistocene Park in Siberia

Pleistocene Park is a nature reserve south of Chersky in the Sakha Republic in northeastern Siberia, where an attempt is being made to recreate the northern steppe grassland ecosystem that flourished in the area during the last ice age.

The effort is being led by Russian researcher Sergey Zimov.

Pleistocene Park is a 160 square kilometer scientific nature reserve (zakaznik), owned and administered by a non-profit corporation, Pleistocene Park Association, consisting of the ecologists from the Northeast Science Station in Chersky and the Grassland Institute in Yakutsk. The reserve is surrounded by a 600 km^2 buffer zone that will be added to the park by the regional government, once the animals have successfully established themselves.

Animals already present in the park:

Carnivores: Eurasian Lynx, Grey Wolf, Arctic Fox, Eurasian Brown Bear, Wolverine, Red Fox

Herbivores: Reindeer, Elk, Snow Sheep, Wood Bison, Moose, Yakut Pony

Animals considered or suggested for reintroduction:

Carnivores: Amur Leopard, Siberian Tiger, Asiatic Lion

Herbivores: Yak, Saiga antelope, Muskox, Bactrian Camel, Woolly Mammoth, Roe Deer.

Pleistocene rewilding efforts are being made around the world

SOURCES – Vice, BBC News, Current Biology, Wikipedia