April 10, 2008

Preserved Mammoth Calf Yields New Information

The remains of an ancient mammoth discovered in the Russian Arctic are providing scientists with an unprecedented view of the inner structure of the prehistoric animal.

Named "Lyuba" after the wife of the hunter who discovered her in May 2007, the female mammoth presumably died almost 40,000 years ago at no more than six months in age. Upon its discovery, the calf was well preserved with its eyes and trunk in tact and some fur still remained on its body.

The calf's remains were sent to Jikei University in Japan, where it underwent computer tomography scans.

We could see for the first time how internal organs are located inside a mammoth. It is pretty important from a scientific point of view," said Alexei Tikhonov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Science's Zoological Institute.

"Her internal organs were well preserved -- the heart was seen distinctly with all its ventricles and atria, as well as the liver and its veins," Tikhonov added.

"This is the best preserved specimen not only of the mammoth but of any prehistoric animal."

Scientists were excited to find that her skin was intact, which led to the careful preservation of her internal organs.

Drowning was reportedly the cause of Lyuba's death, as scientists discovered that her airways and digestive system were clogged with silt.

Mammoths are known to have become extinct during the Ice Age.

Tests on Lyuba showed that she was fed on milk and was probably between three to four months old when she died in what is now the Yamalo-Nenetsk region of Russia's Arctic.

"If we take samples of Lyuba's tissues by biopsy, without unfreezing her, there is a big chance we can obtain promising results in genetics and microbiology," said Tikhonov.

"I believe the genetic map (of the mammoth) will be decoded within a year or two. As for (Lyuba's) practical use, we will have discovered methods of decoding the genetic map of any extinct prehistoric animals," he said.

"There were species that died out during the human era. And while I do not think someone would attempt to reproduce the mammoth, it would still make sense to bring back to life gigantic birds from Madagascar or New Zealand, or the Steller's sea cow (an extinct mammal), and so on and so forth."

Lyuba is currently being preserved in a container kept in sub-zero temperatures. She will be sent to Salekhard, capital of the Yamalo-Netnetsk region where she will be exhibited this summer.

"A special glass-case with constant sub-zero temperatures has already been prepared for her," Tikhonov said.


On the Net:

Russian Academy of Science's Zoological Institute

Jikei University