Scientists ‘Wake Up’ Ancient Woolly Mammoth Cells in High-Tech Experiment

Scientists ‘Wake Up’ Ancient Woolly Mammoth Cells in High-Tech Experiment

Scientists in Japan have “awakened” 28,000-year-old cells from a woolly mammoth that lived on our planet years ago, and their observations could provide a better understanding of extinct animals’ lives.


The team, which published their findings in Scientific Reports, recovered cell nuclei from the remains of Yuka, a preserved mammoth that was discovered in Siberia’s permafrost nine years ago, Phys.Org reported. While there won’t be any woolly mammoths rising from the grave soon, the experiment could help scientists explore alternative resurrection methods in the future.

For the experiment, the scientists inserted muscle cell nuclei from the woolly mammoth carcass into mouse cells, and observed for “signs of biological activity,” Newsweek noted.

First, an analysis showed that nucleus-like structures were present in the animal’s muscle tissue and then, additional tests revealed that its remains were not contaminated for 28,000 years. The team collected 88 nucleus-like structures from the creature and then placed them into mouse oocytes (the cell that can split to form an ovum in the ovaries). With a live-cell imaging technique, the team watched to see what would happen to the “awakened” cells.

Yuka surrounded by exhibition staff at an exhibition in Yokohama, Japan. (Photo Credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

“The mammoth nuclei showed the spindle assembly, histone incorporation and partial nuclear formation; however, the full activation of nuclei for cleavage was not confirmed,” the team wrote in their study.

“We are yet to see even cell divisions,” Kei Miyamoto, a member of the team at Kindai University in western Japan, told AFP. “I have to say we are very far from recreating a mammoth.”

Even though the team couldn’t generate cell division needed for a woolly mammoth rebirth, the team aims to try new approaches to bring the creatures back to life down the line. However, they’ll need better preserved nuclei and additional experiments to reach this key biological milestone.

“The results presented here clearly show us again the de facto impossibility to clone the mammoth by current NT [nuclear transfer] technology, our approach paves the way for evaluating the biological activities of nuclei in extinct animal species,” the scientists concluded in the study.

David Aragorn

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