Some of you may think that being alive is a prerequisite for going on tour, but not so for a 39,000-year-old woolly mammoth calf. The calf, retrieved from the Siberian permafrost in 2010, made its first media appearance last week, and will be on display to the public in Yokohama, Japan until September 16. Yuka (named after Russian’s Sakha Republic, Yakutia) is a 3-meter-tall female who was 10 years old when she died. The frigid conditions kept the carcass in near-perfect condition, and scientists have been studying her in Russia for the past few years.
In addition to the mammoth calf, the Pacifico Yokohama exhibit features samples of other extinct species that coexisted with the mammoth. Visitors to the exhibit will even be allowed to touch Yuka (yay?), which has retained a surprising amount of fur and muscle tissue. Yuka is, however, missing parts of her legs and torso, which could be the result of prehistoric hunters.
Preserving and showing off the mammoth carcass is only one of scientists’ goals. The Russian researchers who first unearthed Yuka also obtained a blood sample that they’ll use to study her DNA. In recent years, researchers have talked quite a bit about trying to clone the woolly mammoth, which became extinct roughly 10,000 years ago.
A team at Penn State University have already sequenced the genome of the woolly mammoth using hair samples. If viable DNA can be extracted from Yuka, it is possible that scientists could implant it into the egg of an Asian elephant that has had its nucleus removed. The Asian elephant is the mammoth’s closest living relative—they share 98-99% of the same genetic material. From there, teams would use electric currents to stimulate cell mitosis and eventually clone the mammoth. If researchers happened to find mammoth sperm with viable DNA, they could theoretically do something like in-vitro fertilization and inject it into an elephant egg.
This isn’t the first time Russian and Japanese scientists have worked together to make a species “de-extinct”. Their efforts are on display at Pleistocene Park, a Jurassic Park (minus the dinosaurs) type initiative meant to restore the habitat and populations of extinct Siberian species, such as Yakutian horses, reindeer, elk, moose, snow sheep, musk ox, and wood bison.
Now that would be an interesting tour.