By Anna Liesowska
13 March 2014
Discovery of blood in creature frozen for 43,000 years is seen as major breakthrough by international team.
The experts believe they will be able to extract high quality DNA from the remains which have undergone a unique autopsy in Yakutsk, capital of the Sakha Repblic, also called Yakutia. There was palpable excitement among the team which included scientists from Russia, the UK, the USA, Denmark, South Korea and Moldova.
Radik Khayrullin, vice president of the Russian Association of Medical Anthropologists, said in Yakutsk: 'The data we are about to receive will give us a high chance to clone the mammoth.'
He immediately called for responsibility in bringing the ancient beast - a native of Siberia - back to life, urging that this is not done to play God.
'We must have a reason to do this, as it is one thing to clone it for scientific purpose, and another to clone for the sake of curiosity'.
But theoretically the possibility exists that this female mammoth will become the parent of the first of the species to walk the planet.
Mr Khayrullin also acknowledged that the mammoth cannot be identical to the creatures that become extinct between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago.
'It will be a different mammoth to the one living 43,000 years ago, specially taking into account that there will be interbreeding with a female elephant.'
If and when experiments begin, an elephant will be the surrogate mother, enabling the species to be brought back from the dead.
Viktoria Egorova, chief of the Research and Clinical Diagnostic Laboratory of the Medical Clinic of North-Eastern Federal University, said: 'We have dissected the soft tissues of the mammoth - and I must say that we didn't expect such results. The carcass that is more than 43,000 years old has preserved better than a body of a human buried for six months.
'The tissue cut clearly shows blood vessels with strong walls. Inside the vessels there is haemolysed blood, where for the first time we have found erythrocytes. Muscle and adipose tissues are well preserved.
'We have also obtained very well visualised migrating cells of the lymphoid tissue, which is another great discovery.
'The upper part of the carcass has been eaten by animals, yet the lower part with the legs and, astonishingly, the trunk are very well preserved.
'We also have the mammoth's liver - very well preserved, too, and looks like with some solid fragments inside it. We haven't managed to study them yet, but the first suggestion is that possibly these are kidney stones.
'Another discovery was intestines with remains of the vegetation the mammoth ate before its death, and a multi-chambered stomach what we've been working with today, collecting tissue samples. There is a lot more material that will have to go through laboratory research'.
Remarkably the state of the blood allows the scientists to travel back in time to understand cicrumstances of the mammoth's death.
As Radik Khayrullin said, 'the blood we have obtained is 'agonised' - which means that the mammoth died an unnatural death, it must have been in agony for 16, 18 hours. This is also confirmed by the position of the body, with its back leg stretched in an unnatural way.
'We think this was a female mammoth that fell into an ice hole and couldn't escape'.
The mammoth remains were far older than experts believed when they first dug the carcass from the permafrost in the north of the Sakha Repiblic.
It was believed to be aged around 10,000 years old but tests by Alexei Tikhonov, deputy director of the Zoological Institute, St Petersburg, indicated around 43,000 years old.
Semyon Grigoryev, head of the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk, part of the Institute of Applied Ecology of the North at the North Eastern Federal University, told The Siberian Times: 'We are still up to our eye in work, we will finish today's laboratory works by about 7 pm.'
He said works had been done on the stomach and digestive system. The autopsy will finish on 15 March, and by May scientists aim to hold a conference in Greece to announce the results of their work. The Siberian Times has previously covered reports about the carcass which was originally found in May 2013 on Malolyakhovskiy island and transported in a frozen condition to remote Kazachiy, in the north of the Sakha Republic, where it was initially examined by the international team.
The same month we reported that a blood sample had been found and in September 2013 another story revealed the existence of the best preserved trunk ever found. Initially, it was claimed that the blood tests had 'no clear results' and it is known samples were sent to University of Manitoba, Aarhus University, and Lund University, as well as to South Korea for further research.
'We took it out of the icehouse and it just laid outdoors,' said Dr Grigoriev, explaining the moment when the experts had the chance to scrutinise the mammoth remains for the first time. 'For three days, it didn't fully melt, but we didn't need this. It was important to save some part of the biological material frozen inside. The trunk was detached from the beginning. It melted faster.
'We thawed it for one day, but not completely, of course. We cleaned it and froze it again. The trunk is the most valuable part of the remains at the moment.
'We understood this when we saw the red soft tissues inside. It looked like the meat of a freshly killed animal. It is red and we can see the muscle.
'It smells like not very fresh meat. Sometimes the corpse remains of ancient animals are so decomposed that the smell is unbearable. It all depends on the preservation, here it was better and the smell was not so strong'.
Grigoriev described the 'excitement, the feeling of discovery, when every minute, every hour brings something new' as the scientists examined the frozen remains. He said in September 2013: 'Everybody is talking about about cloning, but we should understand that it is a very complicated task. Of course, we hope to find so called 'living cell' in the samples. That means we can get the least damaged DNA and first of all - nuclear DNA. But this is only a midway point.
'The next question is how to use an elephant in the cloning process. The evolutionary path of the mammoth and the elephant diverged a long time ago. So even if we could get a 'living cell' we need to have a special method of cloning. The Koreans are working on getting the clones from different species, but, you see, it is not so fast. If we do not get 'living cell', we will have a longer route. Then we should create artificial DNA, it could take 50 or 60 years.
'Apart from cloning, these samples will give us an opportunity to completely decode the DNA of the mammoth, and we will be able to decipher the nuclear DNA, which stores a lot of information.
'So we have a unique opportunity to understand how the mammoth's blood system worked, its muscles and the trunk. Of course, we are engaged primarily in fundamental science. It is important to us to learn all possible details about mammoth. Maybe our findings will be used by applied science, but now it is early to think of it. And I repeat once again that cloning - despite our discovery, it is a very distant prospect, involving years and decades of work'.
The creature was believed to be aged around 50 or 60 when it died.
The mammoth disappeared from Siberia at the end of the Pleistocene period some 10,000 years ago in circumstances that are a matter of scientific debate.
Climate change and hunting by humans may have been factors. An isolated population of the creature survived on Wrangel Island until around 4,000 years ago.