The 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:
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