Mammoth cloning could be a step closer

They did it with Dolly the sheep, but then she was alive and kicking. Now Russian and Korean scientists say they could be a step closer to cloning a prehistoric animal, after the discovery of potentially usable “soft, fatty tissue” from a woolly mammoth.

The remains, including hair and bone marrow, were found during a joint Russian, American, Korean and British expedition in a remote area of Yakutia, Russia’s largest Siberian region.

Researchers from the expedition, organised by Yakutsk-based North-Eastern Federal University Ammosova, say the remains of a mammoth found buried at a depth of 100 metres near Ust-Yanskiy in August could contain cells with the potential for cloning.

The remains of woolly mammoths and other Ice Age-era animals are often found in remote parts of Yakutia, where permafrost covers 90% of the territory, meaning that the ground is always frozen at depths ranging from a couple of metres up to 1.5 kilometres deep.

“In a unique location at a depth of about 100 metres we found a wealth of material to explore – it’s soft, fatty tissue, hair, bone marrow [of a ] mammoth,” expedition head Semyon Grigorive, who is also director of the university’s Mammoth Museum, said in remarks published on the university’s website.

Dr Woo Suk Hwang, of Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which in March this year signed a collaboration agreement with the university to exploit usable remains of prehistoric animals in the foundation’s advanced animal cloning programme, said the samples could potentially contain live cells.

Details of the find and the work of the Korean foundation are expected to be published in a reputable scientific journal, although some in Russia’s scientific community remain sceptical.

Alexander Agadzhanyan, head of the mammals laboratory of Moscow’s Russian Academy of Science Institute of Palaeontology, told news agency RIA-Novosti that he doubted that living cells could be found buried so deep in the permafrost.

“Thus far there haven’t been truly living cells in any of the mammoths found,” Agadzhanyan said. “A complete DNA sequence has not been obtained.”