Woolly mammoths suffered genetic defects because of generations of inbreeding

This is an artist's rendition of a woolly mammoth. The recent research analyzed the resurrected DNA of woolly mammoth fragments detected on a distant Arctic refuge off the coast of the Wrangel Island.

Most woolly mammoths went extinct roughly 10,000 years ago amid a warming climate and widespread human hunting.

The final cause of the extinction of the Wrangel Island mammoths is still a mystery, but it is clear that, due to a decline in their population, they suffered from a medley of genetic defects that may have hindered their development. The creatures found their end nearly 5,000 years ago, and the cause of their death was unknown. Comparing the DNA of a Wrangel Island mammoth to that of 3 Asian elephants and 2 more ancient mammoths, the study found a number of unique genetic mutations. These included disruptions to genes associated with neurological developmental defects (including a risky condition known as hydrolethalus syndrome), diabetes, reduced male fertility, and strangely, an inability to "detect floral scents", according to the paper. He added that mutations happen all the time but the population that lived on Wrangel was very small and inbred. Such a thing could also have limited their development, according to the study.

The woolly mammoth, about the size of today's elephants but possessing long brown fur and enormous tusks, first appeared about 700,000 years ago in Siberia, expanding through northern Eurasia and North America. Also, the woolly mammoths had diverged from the steppe species of mammoths approximately 400,000 years ago in eastern Asia.

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Ethelene is the main editor on DualDove, she likes to write on the latest science news. In 2017, a study co-authored by Rebekah Rogers from the University of North Carolina identified a host of genetic glitches in woolly mammoths from Wrangel Island, including an inordinate amount of deleted and non-functional genes, disrupted gene sequences, retrogenes, and an unhealthy abundance of premature termination codons, which normally identify the end of genetic translations, among other problems.

Researchers have resurrected woolly mammoth genes in the lab.

Then, they raised these mutated genes from the dead.

"The key innovation of our paper is that we actually resurrect Wrangel Island mammoth genes to test whether their mutations actually were damaging (most mutations don't actually do anything)", said the study's lead author, Vincent Lynch, in a statement.

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"We stumbled on that mutations changed the aim of mammoth genes in systems that probably precipitated disease", talked about Lynch.

While referring a 2017 study on detrimental genetic mutations in the Wrangel Island mammoth, Lynch said that the previous paper, predicted that Wrangel Island mammoths were accumulating damaging mutations, while the new study has found something similar and tested those predictions by resurrecting mutated genes in the lab.

The mammoths living on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean were one of those isolated populations. They synthesised and cloned the genes, then placed them in gene-edited elephant embryos in a petri dish, so the researchers could observe how proteins expressed by the genes interacted with other genes and molecules. "Wrangel Island mammoths were unable to smell the flowers that they ate".

In the case of detecting odors, for example, "We know how the genes responsible for our ability to detect scents work", Lynch says.

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Their demise began 11,700 years ago, towards the tail end of the last ice age.

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