Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mammoth task achieved with a little help from ebay

Seeing as the header of this blog is a picture of a mammoth, we thought we'd better cover the sequencing of the woolly mammoth genome, published last month in Nature. Clearly one obstacle to sequencing the genome of an extinct animal is obtaining a nice DNA sample. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University overcame this problem in an unusual way- by trawling ebay for hair samples (see picture).

The $130, 10-g hair samples were taken from two Siberian mammoths frozen in the permafrost 20 000 and 60 000 years ago, and used to generate nucleic DNA sequence. This was compared to the previously sequenced mitochondrial genome to yield information about extant elephants. "Our data suggest that mammoths and modern-day elephants separated around six million years ago, about the same time that humans and chimpanzees separated" said Webb Miller, one of the project leaders. The project could also provide insight into characteristics such as the mammoth's adaptation to extreme cold.

Some readers may remember recent research in which a team took a single Tasmanian Tiger gene and inserted it into a mouse embryo, where it was expressed. This raises the possiblity of one day resurrecting extinct animals like the woolly mammoth using their genome sequence. However, given that the mammoth genome is thought to contain about 20 000 genes, we can expect it to be many years before these beasts are thundering across the permafrost again. In this event, presumably the price of mammoth hair on ebay will also drop dramatically.


  1. I wonder if we could make mammoth wool clothing...

  2. Hmm could be a little exxy at this point in time...