Mammoth DNA Sequence

ResearchBlogging.orgThe genome of the extinct woolley mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) has been sequenced, and reported in Nature. This confirms that elephant genomes are large, like the elephants themselves. It confirms previously proposed relationships amongst the elephants (see phylogeny below) and refines the known phylogeny. Interpopulation differences among mammoths were also demonstrated.

Here’s the phylogeny:

Comparison of phylogenies of elephants and hominoids. “We show estimated divergence times, that is, times to the common ancestor averaged across autosomes (see Methods). Red circles at the leaves of the phylogenetic tree indicate discernable species. This distinction was not made for the two clades of mammoth (M4 and M25) based on the fossil record (merged red circles).”

From the data set presented here, we conclude that a high-fidelity, high-coverage mammoth genome will be feasible once the genome sequence for the African elephant has been completed and 10-30-fold (depending on the sequencing technology) more mammoth sequence has been generated. From our data, we estimate that mammoth and elephant differ on average at about one residue per protein (roughly 20,000 positions proteome-wide) and that 90% of those differences are potentially identifiable by means of higher-coverage short-read sequencing alone (that is, without enriching sequenced material for coding DNA or Sanger resequencing; see Methods). Apart from comparing protein sequences, we hope to pinpoint DNA differences between mammoth and elephant in the non-repetitive genomic intervals, so it may even be possible to detect differences in gene-regulatory signals. The catalogue of differences, along with computational predictions of the differences most likely to have functional consequences, will provide a resource to facilitate direct observation of genetically orchestrated changes over evolutionary time, for example those associated with adaptation to cold environments, dietary changes and so on. In addition, the determination of an even larger number of synonymous changes in those protein-coding intervals will permit identification of genes and gene families under selection during mammoth evolution.

And, of course, that will be a recipe for altering the genome of an extant elephant egg and sperm, to create a Neo Mammoth. One day, Mammoths will roam, once again, across the Canadian Steppes…

Webb Miller, Daniela I. Drautz, Aakrosh Ratan, Barbara Pusey, Ji Qi, Arthur M. Lesk, Lynn P. Tomsho, Michael D. Packard, Fangqing Zhao, Andrei Sher, Alexei Tikhonov, Brian Raney, Nick Patterson, Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, Eric S. Lander, James R. Knight, Gerard P. Irzyk, Karin M. Fredrikson, Timothy T. Harkins, Sharon Sheridan, Tom Pringle, Stephan C. Schuster (2008). Sequencing the nuclear genome of the extinct woolly mammoth Nature, 456 (7220), 387-390 DOI: 10.1038/nature07446


  1. #1 Doug Alder
    November 23, 2008

    I truly hope to live to see that day Greg – what a remarkable site that would be.

  2. #2 kraut
    November 23, 2008

    {quote]One day, Mammoths will roam, once again, across the Canadian Steppes…[/quote]

    Now, that would be cool. Where I live we have some nice buffelo heards already. Rounds up the picture nicely. Now for some sabre tooth cats.

  3. #3 AnnieT
    November 23, 2008

    Dont forget the woolly rhino!!!

  4. #4 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    November 23, 2008

    Well, they had better make them all female as to prevent unwanted breeding.

  5. #5 chat
    November 23, 2008


  6. #6 Romeo Vitelli
    November 23, 2008

    I’m sure the poachers would love a brand new source of ivory.

  7. #7 Lorax
    November 24, 2008

    Not to rain on everyone’s parade, or snow if you live in Minnesota, but my expectation from this type of experiment is a polymorphic elephant, which is not a wholly mammoth.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    November 24, 2008

    I don’t know, Lorax … it seems to me, if you put the Mammoth Hair in the Cloning Machine you’re going to get a Mammoth, not some elephant from Polynesia!

  9. #9 K.
    December 5, 2008

    The possibilities are titillating. I remember similar research making the news several years ago. I’ve always been especially fascinated by mammoths and mastodons among the other prehistoric creatures. Some small part of me thinks we should just let the past alone, but the idea of seeing a real, live mammoth is just to exciting to ignore.