The body of an extinct woolly mammoth discovered on a Siberian island is so well preserved that researchers were able to collect samples of blood from beneath it.
The Russian researchers are now hoping to collaborate with a Canadian scientist whose research suggests mammoths' blood was specially adapted for life in an icy environment.
Semyon Grigoriev, who led the Russian expedition that recently found the mammoth carcass, has contacted University of Manitoba physiologist Kevin Campbell, who has expressed interest in working with him and his colleagues, said a news release Thursday from the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, Siberia. Grigoriev is chair of the mammoth museum at the university's Research Institute of Applied Ecology of the North.
The carcass was found on Maliy Lyakhovsky Island in the Novosibirsk archipelago in the East Siberian Sea by a recent expedition of the Research Institute of Applied Ecology of the North at North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, Siberia, and the Russian Geographical Society.
An examination of the mammoth's teeth suggested she was between 50 and 60 years old when she died.
Muscles looked like 'fresh meat'
The lower part of the female mammoth's body was completely buried in ice, leaving its soft tissues in very good condition, reported Grigoriev.
"The fragments of muscle tissues, which we’ve found out of the body, have a natural red colour of fresh meat," according to Grigoriev.
That was despite the fact that the carcass had been there for thousands of years. Evidence suggests that mammoths became extinct around 4,000 years ago, although they died out thousands of years earlier throughout much of their range.
The researchers also managed to collect blood from ice cavities below the animal's belly.
Grigoriev said the blood flowed freely when the researcher broke through the ice, despite the fact that the air temperature was well below the freezing point of water, suggesting that the blood might have some antifreeze-type properties.
Thursday's statement from the research institute said that was the part of the discovery of the greatest interest to the researchers.
They said are interested in working with Campbell because of an analysis he did of mammoth hemoglobin — the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen — that shows it differs from that of elephant hemoglobin in a way that helps it function better at cold temperatures. That study, which used DNA from a 43,000-year-old mammoth specimen from Siberia to "resurrect" the mammoth hemoglobin protein and analyze it, was published in the journal Nature Genetics in 2010.
In the case of the recent mammoth discovery, researchers did not provide an estimate for how long ago the animal died. While the lower part of the body was well preserved, only the bones remained of the upper part of the body, the head and the left hind leg, which were exposed in the middle of the tundra, the researchers said. Grigoriev said the trunk was poorly preserved and found separately from the body.
The expedition returned to Yakustk last week with samples of the carcass. They will be examined for potentially dangerous microbes, the researchers said.