Images: Semyon Grigoriev, Institute of Applied Ecology, Yakutsk
Who wants to see a 10,000 year-old Woolly Mammoth stomping around the modern world? Everyone, right? A team of Russian paleontologists and a controversial South Korean biologist are assuming as much, since they've been working to do exactly that for the past year. And now, the Russian scientists have discovered, for the first time, a mammoth carcass with perfectly preserved blood in a chunk of ice on a Siberian island in the Novosibirsk archipelago.
The paleontologists, who hail from the Institute of Applied Ecology at Yakutsk, suspect the mammoth fell into a swamp and was trapped. There, it was attacked by scavengers, and was half-eaten—they found the trunk separated from the carcass. The blood that flowed out from its wounds froze in the water and was preserved for thousands of years there, until the scientists chiseled it out earlier this month.
The head of the Institute, Semyon Grigoriev, told the Siberian Times that they have discovered "the best preserved mammoth in the history of paleontology."
All of this is good news for those hoping to see a cloned mammoth stalk the earth. That's because the Institute of Applied Ecology is the same team that partnered with Hwang Woo-Suk, the disgraced leader of Korea's controversial Sooam Biotech Research Foundation. The group was the center of a major controversy when, after it successfully cloned a dog, it was revealed to have fabricated results that purportedly proved it cloned embryonic stem cells, too.
Last March, the Russian academics nonetheless inked a deal that granted Hwang exclusive rights to cloning any woolly mammoth specimens the team uncovered. At the time, the Russian news outlet Ria Novosti spoke with the Institute about its plans for reviving the mammoth.
"We intend to carry out somatic cloning by implanting the genetic material of a mammoth that lived several thousand years ago into the egg of a modern female elephant," a spokesman told Ria Novosti. "The egg will then be placed into the womb of the elephant, who will bear the foetus for 22 months before hopefully giving birth to a live baby mammoth."
The addition of finely preserved blood now offers a wealth of additional genetic materials. Many onlookers now assume that the final roadblock to cloning a mammoth has now been overcome—the Siberian Times says "there now seems little doubt that this WILL happen." And Russian newspapers don't use all-caps lightly.
Hwang Woo-Suk has already successfully cloned a dog. Since his disgrace, he's claimed to have cloned coyotes. There's a significant amount of evidence that he succeeded. Next up, it looks like he'll seek to complete his redemption by birthing the first baby woolly mammoth the world's seen in thousands of years. And if he's going to do it, he's going to do it with the best preserved mammoth blood in history.