Scientists reactivate 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth cells

Scientists reactivate 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth cells

A team of Russian and Japanese scientists have managed to reawakened cells from a 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth.

The team released their findings in a study published Monday in Scientific Reports. The study was co-authored by 90-year-old Akira Iritani who has spent the last 20 years working toward resurrecting the woolly mammoth.

Using a ‘nuclear transfer’ technique – similar to how Dolly the Sheep was cloned – the team of international scientists were able to stimulate the cells nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes.

The study represents a breakthrough the cells themselves did not show any signs of division. This means that within better tech or more DNA samples it is unlikely anyone would be able to clone a woolly mammoth.

While the team used samples from a ‘well-preserved specimen’ those samples were still badly damaged compared to cloning from a live subject.

The team hope that by studying how studying the DNA of woolly mammoths they can better understand what genetic adaptations they developed to survive their extreme environment.

How to reawaken woolly mammoth cells?

The cells used in the study were sourced from “Yuka” – a well-preserved Siberian woolly mammoth discovered in permafrost in 2012.


Using “nuclear transfer” (a form of cloning which takes DNA from an oocyte, an unfertilised egg, and injects it into a nucleus which contains the DNA to be cloned) the scientists were able implanted Yuka’s cells into a mouse oocyte to see how they reacted.

By using a live-cell imaging technique they could then observe how the new structures reacted within the cell and were able to see traces of biological activity.

While “nuclear transfer” is the same process that cloned Dolly the Sheep, the process is not very efficient at encouraging cell division.

While the team could not stimulate cell division they did observe their mammoth nuclei reaching a spindle assembly. This is when chromosomes are attached to spindle structures just before a parent cell divides.

While the team’s ultimate goal is to resurrect a mammoth, the study suggests they will either need to wait for better DNA techniques, a larger sample of mammoth DNA, or rely on new gene-tech like CRISPR to create an elephant-mammoth hybrid.

Published as Signs of biological activities of 28,000-year-old mammoth nuclei in mouse oocytes visualized by live-cell imaging. Scientific Reports Volume 9, Article number: 4050 (2019)

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