Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The mammoths' swan song revised

15.12.2009
Woolly mammoths and prehistoric horses grazed on the North American plains for several thousand years longer than hitherto assumed

This is shown by samples of ancient DNA, analysed by an international team of research scientists under the leadership of Professor Eske Willerslev from Copenhagen University. Analyses of ancient DNA thereby once again revoke results of more common methods of dating, such as carbon 14 analysis of bone and tooth remains from extinct animals.

These methods which had previously dated the extinction of mammoths and prehistoric horses in Central Asia to within 13-15,000 years ago. But with the DNA-test methods of Eske Willerslev and his colleagues, this boundary has now moved between 2,600 and 5,600 years closer to our time and has thus revised our previous opinion of when the last mammoths and prehistoric horses grazed on the North American Plains.

The ancient DNA that formed the basis for this sensational result, was discovered by scientists in samples of soil from the permafrost tundra surrounding the windswept town of Stevens Village on the bank of the Yukon River in Central Alaska.

Professor Eske Willerslev says about his discovery:

"In principle, one can take a pinch of soil and uncover which living creatures, animals and plants lived in the area half a million years back in time. With ancient DNA analysis, we are completely independent of skeletons, bones, teeth and other macro-fossil evidence from extinct animals. This greatly increases the possibility of finding evidence of the existence of a species through time. Whilst an animal leaves only a single corpse when it dies, it leaves quantities of DNA traces through urine and faeces whilst it is still alive. It is these DNA traces which we find in the soil."

When the remains of the last member of an extinct species were hard to find, Willerslev and a team of international research scientists decided to carry out an expedition to Central Alaska to solve the riddle of "The last surviving mammoths" using ancient-DNA tests from permafrost soil.

Surprisingly, the scientists found that the later samples with mammoth DNA could be dated back to between 10,500 and 7,500 years ago, and are therefore between 2,600 and 5,600 years after the supposed extinction of the mammoths from mainland Alaska. Thus, the scientists found proof that mammoths had walked the earth several thousand years longer than previously believed; presumably by lesser herds of these animals threatened with extinction, surviving in small, isolated enclaves, where living conditions were intact.

The findings breathe new life into the debate about why prehistoric animals, such as sabre-toothed tigers, giant sloths, woolly rhinos, and mammoths apparently suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth.

"Our findings show that the mammoth and the horse existed side by side with the first human immigrants in America for certainly 3,500 years and were therefore not wiped out by human beings or natural disasters within a few hundred years, as common theories otherwise argue. The technique behind ancient-DNA analysis has the potential to greatly contribute to the debate about the extermination of prehistoric species, but can also be used to gather knowledge of contemporary animal species which are so shy that they are hard to detect. Not to mention the forensic possibilities opened up by the technique," Eske Willerslev points out.

The article on the last mammoths will be published on Monday, December 14th in the internationally recognised publication "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS).

Professor Eske Willerslev can be contacted by telephone: 28751309 or by mail willerslev@bio.ku.dk

Eske Willerslev | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.bio.ku.dk

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht What happens in the cell nucleus after fertilization
06.12.2016 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Simple processing technique could cut cost of organic PV and wearable electronics

06.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

3-D printed kidney phantoms aid nuclear medicine dosing calibration

06.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Robot on demand: Mobile machining of aircraft components with high precision

06.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>