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Extinct Siberian woolly mammoths may hold the key to advances in human heart surgery

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26 August 2012


Scientists work with the perfectly preserved body of Yuka, wolly mammoth found in Siberia by tusk hunters. Picture: Pr.Boeskorov/The SIberian Times 

This follows the bringing back to life of mammoth haemoglobin.

Geneticist Alan Cooper and an international team used Siberian mammoth remains to recreate the mammoth haemoglobin in 2010, it is reported.

Professor Cooper, director of the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, originally intended the work to be pure research aimed at discovering how a species with roots in tropical Asia adapted to the harsh conditions of the Arctic.

He and colleague Jeremy Austin reconstructed the two mammoth genes involved in the structure of haemoglobin, which transports oxygen to the cells, reported The Australian newspaper. 

'The scientists compared the mammoth haemoglobin DNA with that of African and Asian elephants - close relatives of the extinct species - and with human haemoglobin DNA,' said the paper.

'Team members overseas then used the sequences to synthesise authentic mammoth haemoglobin. 

'It was the first time a complex protein had been brought back to life. Analysis showed unique changes in mammoth haemoglobin allowed the beasts to offload oxygen to cells at low temperatures. This was a key adaptation to the Arctic climate.'

Having unlocked the secrets of the mammoths in coping with the cold, a separate scientific team is now seeking to apply the findings to humans. 

In particular they are studying 'whether the results could guide the synthesis of new blood products for use in heart-bypass surgery, in which hypothermia is induced in the patient, allowing the heart to be stopped'.

Professor Cooper said: 'The idea that blood could be engineered to deliver oxygen efficiently at cold temperatures has considerable medical applications.'

The work has been entered into The Australian Innovation Challenge awards, run by The Australian in association with Shell, with the aim of seeking funding to further the research.

'It is crucial that we convey our findings to the public to underline the importance of pure research, and build support for science funding in Australia,' he said. 

There is dispute among scientists about the exact cause of the extinction of woolly mammoths. Climate change and hunting by man are frequently cited as causes.

Most mammoths died out in Siberia around 10,000 years ago, though some lived on Wrangel Island - between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea -  until around 1650 BC.

Comments (1)

Another WOW discovery and follow up scientific furtherance Thank goodness-such past discovers for such hard workers to add constantly by research to understanding our past on this planet
Patricia Gothard, Laguna Woods CAUSA
07/11/2017 22:31

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