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The last woolly mammoths on Earth had disastrous DNA

The last woolly mammoths on Earth were a sickly bunch.
The last woolly mammoths on Earth were a sickly bunch.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

Dwarf woolly mammoths that lived on Siberia's Wrangel Island until about 4,000 years ago were plagued by genetic problems, carrying DNA that increased their risk of diabetes, developmental defects and low sperm count, a new study finds.

These mammoths couldn't even smell flowers, the researchers reported. 

"I have never been to Wrangel Island, but I am told by people who have that in the springtime, it's just basically covered in flowers," study lead researcher Vincent Lynch, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Live Science. "[The mammoths] probably couldn't smell any of that."

Related: Mammoth resurrection: 11 hurdles to bringing back an ice age beast

Wrangel Island is a peculiarity. The vast majority of woolly mammoths died out at the end of the last ice age, about 10,500 years ago. But because of rising sea levels, a population of woolly mammoths became trapped on Wrangel Island and continued living there until their demise about 3,700 years ago. This population was so isolated and so small that it didn't have much genetic diversity, the researchers wrote in the new study. 

Without genetic diversity, harmful genetic mutations likely accumulated as these woolly mammoths inbred, and this "may have contributed to their extinction," the researchers wrote in the study.

While other mammoths went extinct at the end of the last ice age about 11,000 years ago, a dwarf population of the species persisted on Wrangel Island in Siberia until about 3,700 years ago.

While almost all other mammoths went extinct at the end of the last ice age about 10,500 years ago, a dwarf population of the species persisted on Wrangel Island in Siberia until about 3,700 years ago. (Image credit: Rebecca Farnham/University at Buffalo)

The team made the discovery by comparing the DNA of one Wrangel Island mammoth to that of three Asian elephants and two other woolly mammoths that lived in larger populations on the mainland.

"We were lucky in that someone had already sequenced the [Wrangel mammoth's] genome," Lynch said. "So, we just went to a database and downloaded it."

After comparing the mammoths' and elephants' genomes, the researchers found several genetic mutations that were unique to the Wrangel Island population. The team had a company synthesize these tweaked genes; then, the researchers popped those genes into elephant cells in petri dishes. These experiments allowed the researchers to analyze whether the proteins expressed by the Wrangel Island mammoth's genes carried out their duties correctly, by sending the right signals, for instance, in the elephant cells.

The team tested genes involved in neurological development, male fertility, insulin signaling and sense of smell. In a nutshell, the Wrangel Island mammoths were not very healthy, the researchers found, as none of those genes carried out their tasks correctly.

That said, the study looked at only one Wrangel Island mammoth, so it's possible that this individual's comrades didn't have similar genes. But "it's probably unlikely that it was just this one individual that had these defects," Lynch said.

In fact, the case of the Wrangel Island mammoths is a cautionary tale about what can happen to a population that is too small and therefore lacks genetic diversity, he said.

The findings build on those from a study published in 2017 in the journal PLOS Genetics that found that the Wrangel Island mammoth population was accumulating damaging mutations.

The new study was published online Feb. 7 in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution.

Originally published on Live Science.

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  • BB Brown
    admin said:
    The DNA in the woolly mammoths on Wrangel Island had a number of unfavorable variants.

    The last woolly mammoths on Earth had disastrous DNA : Read more
    An increasingly mutated genetic code leads to disaster. If an analogous computer program had more than 2-3 defects, it would not function. So, explain the evolution of the genetic code which many scientists are now beginning to see, appears to have been written before the animal came to be. A building is not constructed without a proper set of pre-existing plans. Add to that, the fact that 95% of animals studied to date in one study have been shown to possess 100-200 unique genes, including humans. How can you explain the evolution of these unique genes? There's some very interesting findings from a number of genetic studies over the past 10 years.

    https://www.discovery.org/multimedia/video/2012/11/is-there-enough-time-for-humans-to-have-evolved-from-apes-dr-ann-gauger-answers/
    https://www.techtimes.com/articles/228798/20180530/massive-genetic-study-reveals-90-percent-of-earth-s-animals-appeared-at-the-same-time.htm
    Reply
  • WhiteRobe
    There are innumerable woolly mammoths perfectly preserved frozen standing up, caught while eating and food still in their mouths. Alaska, Russia... Explain again about their DNA causing that? Scientifically, that had to be caused by a worldwide catastrophe. Better re-analyze using ALL the known facts.

    I'm not able to find my copy of a Life magazine article on that fast-freeze woolly mammoth subject. For some odd reason google won't list it in search results so I can find it. I remember delivering a speech on it in college in about 1990 and had photocopied the article from a Life magazine dated in the early '60s (maybe late 1950s if I my life depended on having that date correct).
    Reply
  • BB Brown
    WhiteRobe said:
    There are innumerable woolly mammoths perfectly preserved frozen standing up, caught while eating and food still in their mouths. Alaska, Russia... Explain again about their DNA causing that? Scientifically, that had to be caused by a worldwide catastrophe. Better re-analyze using ALL the known facts.

    I'm not able to find my copy of a Life magazine article on that fast-freeze woolly mammoth subject. For some odd reason google won't list it in search results so I can find it. I remember delivering a speech on it in college in about 1990 and had photocopied the article from a Life magazine dated in the early '60s (maybe late 1950s if I my life depended on having that date correct).
    Very interesting....we must keep an open mind it's the only way to find the real truth. Scientists today are beginning to break away from the orthodoxy of materialism and re-examine the data as more detailed information becomes available. Our genes are incredibly complex. The so-called "junk genes" are now believed to be the control system for the expression of the genes. How does Darwinism explain the development of this complex system? Let the data drive the conclusions not politics or personal beliefs. If we are not free to ask questions then, only one conclusion will be acceptable.

    I would love to see the article you mentioned from Life magazine.
    Reply
  • WhiteRobe
    Did a search on "magazine woolly mammoth frozen" and see a number of hits.

    Just one of them:
    https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/12/permafrozen-dinner/604069/
    Even though this article makes it sound like these finds are rare, they really aren't
    Reply
  • Minamii
    WhiteRobe said:
    There are innumerable woolly mammoths perfectly preserved frozen standing up, caught while eating and food still in their mouths. Alaska, Russia... Explain again about their DNA causing that? Scientifically, that had to be caused by a worldwide catastrophe. Better re-analyze using ALL the known facts.

    I was fascinated to learn that some mammoths died standing up - I'd never heard of it before. Could you provide some links to the stories? And were their bodies found complete, given that skeletons typically disarticulate after death? Were the mammoths in that case killed standing up and mummified in that position? I'd really like to find out more about this subject.
    Reply
  • WhiteRobe
    I'm at the end of my day now, so I'll leave the link-finding to you, but when I did my speech about it I do remember that their legs got crushed from the snow load while they stood on them (long after death, I'm sure). In many places a variety animals were all thrown in together in a jumbled mess. Good night.
    Reply
  • Marcia
    WhiteRobe said:
    There are innumerable woolly mammoths perfectly preserved frozen standing up, caught while eating and food still in their mouths. Alaska, Russia... Explain again about their DNA causing that? Scientifically, that had to be caused by a worldwide catastrophe. Better re-analyze using ALL the known facts.

    I'm not able to find my copy of a Life magazine article on that fast-freeze woolly mammoth subject. For some odd reason google won't list it in search results so I can find it. I remember delivering a speech on it in college in about 1990 and had photocopied the article from a Life magazine dated in the early '60s (maybe late 1950s if I my life depended on having that date correct).

    This particular article refers to an isolated population that survived very late - I'm assuming though I admit I didn't bother to check - rather later than the big freeze events that caught full-sized mammoths standing with fresh greens in their bellies. So it's not an either-or matter. Different populations of mammoths died out at different times for different reasons. They're still all gone now.
    Reply
  • sornord
    "Scientifically, that had to be caused by a worldwide catastrophe. Better re-analyze using ALL the known facts." What, Noah's Flood? What are these "known facts?" Here's a fact: A small, isolated population becomes inbred with inheritable detrimental conditions appearing over time due limited gene pool. Happens in human populations too. (Come to think of it, that would almost certainly have happened to Noah's family too, had they ever existed.) Your comparison to NON-isolated populations is invalid.
    Reply
  • WhiteRobe
    sornord said:
    Your comparison to NON-isolated populations is invalid.
    I need to be more careful. Some other site, a news site, seemed to imply that the woolly mammoth species in general had the DNA condition, and I just assumed the same thing was being said here. Please forgive me.
    Reply
  • Juntaceo
    The claims of flash frozen mammoths are misconceptions from early publications. Many of these bunk theories are tied to legends of from the 1800s when tales of Atlantis and pseudoscience of all kinds was in fashion.

    old publications of pseudo science are not worthy of discussion in a presentation of factual info
    Reply