STL Science Center

STL Science Center

11 October 2011

Mammoth Hair

Mammoths, due to their almost unnatural propensity for freezing and being thawed out by interested scientists, even though it is a rare feat to find a frozen mammoth, have been able to provide science with many many clues to their life that dinosaurs never have given to science. The papers I have selected today represent a mix of that knowledge. I selected the papers I did because they are interesting, intriguing, and one is almost unbelievable and will, while being hard to read because of the technicality of scientific writing, almost certainly entertain your imagination while you try to understand how the scientists discovered what they discovered.

The first paper is one that anyone could come to have expected in the nuclear and information ages. Hendrik Poinar, et al. have researched and pulled information from Woolly Mammoth samples pulled from Siberia which has led, through polymerase chain reaction and pyrosequencing, to the sequencing of 28 million base pairs of DNA. 13 million base pairs were decidedly mammoth and the research also confirmed, in comparison with the modern African Elephant (98.55% similar), that the evolutionary divergence of the species from one another at the generic level occurred 5 to 6 million years ago. The study goes on to conclude that the realm of paleogenomics could use the completeness of mammoth DNA as a springboard into studying fully sequenced DNA of extinct species as there was enough information to fully sequence the entire mammoth's DNA.

The second paper uses data gathered from Wooly Mammoths to examine climate change and the interaction with humans amongst other things. David Nogu├ęs-Bravo et al. measured climate conditions in a multitude of years comparing them with mammoths from the same time frame and mixing in models of human-mammoth interaction to determine the factors that may have led to the extinction of the Eurasian Woolly Mammoth. The study claims that climactic climate changes toward the end of the Late Pleistocene may have led to a radical drop off in the number of living animals in the species. This, coupled with the pressures of human hunting techniques being honed and becoming increasingly lethal may have, deemed highly likely by the paper, set the scene for the extinction of the Wooly Mammoth on the Eurasian landscapes.

The final paper, by Mike Spilde et al., is kind of a roller coaster of the imagination. There is a great deal of hard science, but stepping back and looking at it from a non-scientific point of view it takes a great deal of imagination to understand how biological rhythms could be discerned from an extinct species' hair. The team studied and compared the hair of mammoths gathered from permafrost samples to human hair in order to compare the biological rhythms of humans and mammoths. Hair growth, structure, and elemental composition were studied in order to gain their information. The paper is actually quite ingenious, with a fantastic picture of a living breathing animal painted very well through the study of hair alone.

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