Mammoths had a form of “anti-freeze” blood to keep their bodies supplied with oxygen at freezing temperatures.
Nature Genetics reports that scientists “resurrected” a woolly mammoth blood protein to come to their finding.
This protein, known as haemoglobin, is found in red blood cells, where it binds to and carries oxygen.
The team found that mammoths possessed a genetic adaptation allowing their haemoglobin to release oxygen into the body even at low temperatures.
The ability of haemoglobin to release oxygen to the body’s tissues is generally inhibited by the cold.
The researchers sequenced haemoglobin genes from the DNA of three Siberian mammoths, tens of thousands of years old, which were preserved in the permafrost.
The mammoth DNA sequences were converted into RNA (a molecule similar to DNA which is central to the production of proteins) and inserted into E. coli bacteria.
The bacteria faithfully manufactured the mammoth protein.
“The resulting haemoglobin molecules are no different than ‘going back in time’ and taking a blood sample from a real mammoth,” said co-author Kevin Campbell, from the University of Manitoba in Canada.
Scientists then tested the “revived” mammoth proteins and found three distinctive changes in the haemoglobin sequence allowed mammoth blood to deliver oxygen to cells even at very low temperatures.
This is something the haemoglobin in living elephants cannot do. …