Mammoths developed genes to deal with climate change say scientists

microscope-littleThe Woolly Mammoth was able to thrive in the Ice Age thanks to a series of genetic mutations, according to a study in the most recent issue of Nature Genetics journal.

Three tiny genetic mutations in their DNA meant that Mammoths, distant cousins of African and Asian elephants, could supply their blood cells with oxygen, even in extremely cold conditions, reports the Toronto Star.

The research, from the University of Manitoba’s comparative physiology department, discovered that these genes were able to rearrange the genetic sequence of the animal’s haemoglobin.

“We discovered insights into an extinct species that a number of years ago no one would have dreamed of,” said research leader Kevin Campbell from his Winnipeg office. “We showed how mammoths which originated in Africa adapted to the cold and we have a piece of the puzzle to how they survived the cold. They changed their haemoglobin to allow extremities to cool and still deliver oxygen, thereby reducing their energy requirement,” he added.

Haemoglobin delivers oxygen to the body’s organs, but in most cases cold conditions will cause it to stop functioning and eventually lead to death, reports Siku News.

Campbell and his research team have been studying the mammoth for the past nine years, with findings indicating that the animals evolved around seven million years ago in Africa and made their way to southern Europe about four million years later. They first appeared in the Arctic about a million years after that, along with similar animals such as the Woolly Rhino and the Cave Bear.

Mammoths apparently migrated north from Africa to escape the heat, but in the Arctic the colossal mammals were charged with conserving energy instead.

After discovering DNA fragments in Arctic permafrost, the researchers were able to recreate the animal, revealing the modified cells. “We’ve brought mammoth haemoglobin back to life. It’s like I went into a time machine and got blood from that mammoth,” said Campbell.