Thursday, 23 August 2012

Nicholas Dwyer Archaeogenetics Blog

A Mammoth Discovery
By Nicholas Dwyer

Archaeogenetics was a term first brought about by “Colin Renfrew” which has been now defined into three areas, these are; the analysis of ancient DNA, the analysis of DNA from past generations of human societies (plant and human material) and the application of statistical methods developed by molecular geneticists to archaeological data. The growth of the genetics field which has come with the major advancements of technology within the field has helped promote this new area and possesses the ability to answer many questions of the past.

As technology has improved exponentially within the last twenty years within the field of genetics it has opened the possibility of the recreation of extinct organisms, perhaps even organisms such as the Mammoth. For organisms that have been extinct for thousands or millions of years there are problems with finding material that may possess genetic material and even if they do possess some genetic material it is highly degraded. While there is little hope that any dinosaurs will be found with enough genetic material that can be salvaged there is some hope in regards to mammoths with a number of specimens found intact with organs and skin intact. In order to produce a mammoth they could perform two methods depending on what genetic material is found. The recent discovery of Jarkov a male 47 year old mammoth who was in relatively good condition is where they hope to obtain the material. If Jarkov has sperm cells that are in a retrievable condition then it may be possible to artificially inseminate a female Asiatic elephant egg. A past mammoth specimen was found to be closely related to the Asiatic elephant. If there are no recoverable sperm cells then it may be possible to use the same method of cloning used for Dolly the sheep. This would require a healthy somatic cell for the somatic cell nuclear transfer method. Many seem skeptical that this is within the realms of possibility as the cells could not possibly survive in permafrost  and these methods require living cells.
Though cloning is when of the first things that comes with the discovery of ancient DNA it also may help increase our understanding of the mammoth. As Jarkov is a complete specimen he may contain evidence of what could have possibly caused the Mammoths to go extinct which some scientists have hypothesized may be related to a disease or virus. With its DNA they may be able to identify its similarities with the two existing elephants and possibly determine where they diverged genetically. The knowledge that can be obtained from specimens like this is critical in helping build the field of archaeogenetics and may help in awareness of the area as well as show where future improvements can be made in obtaining information from the specimen.

Though archaeogenetics has yet to make a sgnificant impact on the scientific community it is an area of great potential and will surely become more prominent as technology increases and more materials are discovered.

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