Jenya must be the luckiest boy in all of Siberia. The 11-year old was walking around on the tundra, probably listening to some Skrillex on his 2nd-generation iPod, when he stumbled upon some strange appendages jutting out of the permafrost. These weren’t just any animal parts, though. A little bit of digging revealed the best-preserved wooly mammoth carcass scientists have seen in over a century.
The mammoth had died at the tender young age of 16 after growing to be a sturdy six-and-a-half feet tall. The poor guy was missing a tusk, too, which scientists say probably contributed to his down fall. (The lack of tusk meant that it would’ve been hard for the young mammoth to defend itself against predators.) Some splits on the remaining tusk are indicative of human contact, leading the researchers to believe that it was indeed an Ice Age man who killed the mammoth some 20,000-30,000 years ago.
Jenya is the second significant wooly mammoth discovery in Siberia in as many months, and both have researchers excited about the future of mammoth research. In September, an international team of mammoth researchers discovered exceptionally well preserved remains of a mammoth that they said could hold the key to cloning the beasts. The hair, soft tissue and bone marrow appeared to contain living cells that could be the missing link for reconstructing the mammoth genome. The team said it would take months in the lab to determine the true potential of the find.
The quest to clone a mammoth is obviously not as simple as finding a bunch of remains and shipping them off to a lab. There are only a few scientists in the world with the know-how to turn cells that are tens of thousands of years old into a living organism. And the one who’s probably the best candidate is kind of a criminal. South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk expressed interest in the living cells discovery but is somewhat of a pariah in the scientific community after he was caught fabricating results in his supposedly groundbreaking research. As if that weren’t bad enough, he was later convicted of embezzling government research dollars for the work.
Regardless of his controversial past, Hwang says that he’ll be the first to clone a wooly mammoth. And to his credit, he has cloned other animals like dogs in the past. Let’s just say that a wooly mammoth is a much bigger undertaking.