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Scientists reactivate cells from 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth

"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Yamagata et al.
  • The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
  • Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
  • Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.

A team of Japanese and Russian scientists has successfully "reawakened" cells from a 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth, according to a study published Monday in Scientific Reports.

The cells came from an extraordinarily well-preserved woolly mammoth discovered in Siberian permafrost in 2012 and nicknamed "Yuka". Using a process called nuclear transfer, the scientists took nucleus-like structures from Yuka and implanted them into mouse oocytes, which are highly specialized cells that facilitate embryonic development. The scientists then used a live-cell imaging technique to observe how the structures reacted in their new environment. They saw traces of biological activity.

"I was looking under the microscope at night while I was alone in the laboratory," 90-year-old Akira Iritani, a co-author on the new study who's spent years working toward resurrecting the woolly mammoth, told CNN. "I was so moved when I saw the cells stir. I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Still, this cell activity wasn't significant enough to suggest it'll soon be possible to clone woolly mammoths, which went extinct about 4,000 years ago. For example, the scientists couldn't stimulate cell division in the mammoth cells, but did manage to induce activity that precedes it, such as getting the mammoth nuclei to perform a process called "spindle assembly," in which chromosomes are attached to spindle structures before a parent cell divides into two daughter cells.

Another roadblock is the quality of the DNA samples. Even though Yuka's was in relatively good condition, it was still significantly damaged. It seems vastly improved technology will be needed if scientists are ever going to clone a woolly mammoth, or create an elephant-mammoth hybrid — a more realistic possibility.

The study marks a "significant step toward bringing mammoths back from the dead," researcher Kei Miyamoto, one of the study's authors told Japan's Nikkei news outlet.

"We want to move our study forward to the stage of cell division," he said, adding "we still have a long way to go."

But that doesn't mean research like this is useless. For example, some scientists hope to learn more about the genetic adaptations of the woolly mammoth that enabled it to survive such cold conditions. The hope is that researchers might someday use gene-editing technologies like CRISPR to enable modern elephants to survive in the "mammoth steppe," a massive swath of cold, dry land that stretched across northern parts of globe where mammoths used to roam. Introducing elephants to these areas could actually help curb climate.

Photo credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP / Getty Images

"The elephants that lived in the past — and elephants possibly in the future — knocked down trees and allowed the cold air to hit the ground and keep the cold in the winter, and they helped the grass grow and reflect the sunlight in the summer," George Church, a Harvard and MIT geneticist, told Live Science at the 2018 Liberty Science Center Genius Gala. "Those two [factors] combined could result in a huge cooling of the soil and a rich ecosystem."

But for some scientists, working to resurrect — or at least preserve — the woolly mammoth is more of a philosophical pursuit.

"It's because of people that certain animals have gone extinct," Iritani told CNN. "It's my duty to preserve species."

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Better reskilling can future-proof jobs in the age of automation. Enter SkillUp's new coalition.

Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.

Image: metamorworks / Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Outplacement is an underperforming $5 billion dollar industry. A new non-profit coalition by SkillUp intends to disrupt it.
  • More and more Americans will be laid off in years to come due to automation. Those people need to reorient their career paths and reskill in a way that protects their long-term livelihood.
  • SkillUp brings together technology and service providers, education and training providers, hiring employers, worker outreach, and philanthropies to help people land in-demand jobs in high-growth industries.
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Do we really date based on our own ideals?

Do we really know what we want in a romantic partner? If so, do our desires actually mean we match up with people who suit them?

Does what we want in a partner really match up with what we look for?

Photo by Nejron Photo on Shutterstock
Sex & Relationships
  • Two separate scientific studies suggest that our "ideals" don't really match what we look for in a romantic partner.
  • Results of studies like these can change the way we date, especially in the online world.
  • "You say you want these three attributes and you like the people who possess these attributes. But the story doesn't end there," says Paul Eastwick, co-author of the study and professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychology.
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These 7 items make working remotely more efficient and effective

Workers are adjusting to their new employment reality on couches and kitchen tables across the nation.

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