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Mammoths return: Will Yakutia succeed in cloning them?

A research center will be organized at the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutia

YAKUTSK, November 8. /TASS/. The permafrost is a wonderful storage of ancient animals’ remains. Scientists find there soft tissues, which may be used in cloning. TASS tells about how Yakutia’s scientists plan to work on this most complicated task.

The collection

The center, which will focus on genetic history and studies, will be organized at the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutia. The idea is not new, but only now there are clear images of what the future scientific cluster will be like. The breakthrough project is supported by the regional government. The University estimates necessary investments of 400 million rubles ($6 million).

"This scientific material is unique in the world," says Elena Grigoryeva, a representative of the Molecule Paleontology international center at the Mammoth Museum. "In Yakutia’s subsoils, experts have found 75% of the world’s carcasses of mammoths and other mammoth fauna with preserved soft tissues."

The Mammoth Museum was organized in 1991 at the initiative of Yakutia’s first mammoth researcher Pyotr Lazarev as a scientific and cultural center, and later on it became a part of the University’s Applied Ecology Institute.

"Until it was organized, practically every object found in Yakutia was delivered to the country’s central research institutions," she said. "Now we can make complex studies here, and display or keep researched objects in Yakutsk."

The collection consists of about 3,000 objects, including recent unique discoveries: a horse carcass (4,400 years old), a mummy of a baby buffalo (8,200 years), a baby moose carcass (9,000 years).

All carcasses with soft tissues are stored inside a big freezer at the optimal temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius.

"It is very important to keep the objects frozen, as this way specialists study original tissues and cells, which are thousands years old," the museum’s representative said.

Cooperation bridges

The new center’s experts search and study unbroken cells in the remains, including in remains of mammoths. They work in a so-called "clean" room, to protect the materials from bacteria.

Even when the University organizes a new big research center, the complicated task of cloning a mammoth cannot be solved without support from partners.

"Doing complicated studies on our own is very expensive, and results wouldn’t be quick," the laboratory specialists said, adding they have scientific cooperation ties with the world’s leaders in cloning and biotechnologies. The Museum is about to sign an agreement with the Copenhagen University’s biogenetic studies center, which has a big database of material.

The scientists cooperate with Beijing counterparts in sequencing. Many private foundations are involved in cloning works, including the Korean Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which is well known for good results in cloning Yakutian Laika dogs.

Not only mammoths

The center will have different research directions. In addition to animals, it will also study how people came to this country’s north-east, will study heritable diseases, and various plants. Paleontologists, genetic experts and biotechnologists will work there.

Results of recent studies present differently history of the people, who live in that part of Russia. They have unique ancient genetic structures, experts say.

"This can be explained by centuries-long isolation and it is an ideal object to study rare genetic diseases and to offer diagnostic and preventive methods," the expert told TASS.

The region’s symbol

Attitudes to mammoths have changed in Yakutia, an expert of the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Humanitarian Studies and Problems of the North’s Low-Numbered Peoples, Yekaterina Romanova said.

"In the traditional culture, a mammoth is a symbol of the satanic, shaman world, the world of the dead," she said. "When people hunted for mammoth tusks, it was considered to cause evil, but after the 1990s, the image was changing, the animal becomes the region’s brand and its image promotes tourism to Yakutia."

The plans to clone mammoth arouse philosophical and ethical discussions among the locals.

"Some discussions say it would be against the natural flow of history - this point of view is reflected in the Genesis 2.0 film by a young author, Maxim Arbugayev, which touches upon problems of mammoth cloning," the expert continued. "But the mammoth image will remain attractive for people, as nobody has seen those animals."

"All people are attracted to the unknown," she said in conclusion.