Researchers attempting to clone

a mammoth by 2017

By Tannith Cattermole

17:33 January 23, 2011


The last known mammoth lived around 4,500 years ago, but if scientists in Japan are successful then we might be able to meet one soon! Research to resurrect these awesome creatures was shelved when cell nuclei taken from a sample from Siberia were found to be too badly damaged, however a scientific breakthrough in Kobe successfully cloned a mouse from sixteen year old deep frozen tissue, and the research began again in earnest …

Mammoths are a species of the extinct genus Mammuthus, and closely related to modern elephants today. As anyone who’s been awed and amazed by a mammoth skeleton would know, some had long-curved tusks, and in colder regions, long shaggy hair. The last known mammoths died out 4,500 years ago, but in 1997 researchers at Kyoto University began to try and extract DNA from the tissue of a preserved mammoth carcass found in the Siberian permafrost.

Their efforts were thwarted however by damage caused by ice crystals that rendered the cells unviable. The breakthrough came in 2008 when scientist Dr. Teruhiko Wakayama from the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, developed a new technique, and successfully managed to clone a mouse from tissue that had been deep frozen for sixteen years.

Now emeritus professor Akira Iritani and his team at Kyoto University are making preparations to fulfill their goal of cloning a live mammoth. They successfully extracted mammoth egg cell nuclei without damage, and used elephant egg cells to fill the gaps.

“Now the technical problems have been overcome, all we need is a good sample of soft tissue from a frozen mammoth,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

In the summer, Iritani will travel to Siberia to search for good mammoth samples. There are an estimated 150 million mammoth remains in Russia’s Siberian permafrost, some whole frozen specimens, others in pieces of bone, tusk, tissue and wool. If he is unsuccessful he will apply to Russian scientists to give him a sample.

If a mammoth embryo is successfully cloned then it will be transplanted into a surrogate African elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative. Then will follow a gestation period of 22 months, the longest of any land animal.

“The success rate in the cloning of cattle was poor until recently but now stands at about 30 per cent, I think we have a reasonable chance of success and a healthy mammoth could be born in four or five years.” said Iritani.

There are other considerations however; “If a cloned embryo can be created, we need to discuss, before transplanting it into the womb, how to breed [the mammoth] and whether to display it to the public,” Iritani told the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. “After the mammoth is born, we’ll examine its ecology and genes to study why the species became extinct and other factors.”

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

New Understanding of Bizarre

Extinct Mammal:

Shares Common Ancestor

With Rodents, Primates

Science(Oct. 11, 2010) — University of Florida researchers presenting new fossil evidence of an exceptionally well-preserved 55-million-year-old North American mammal have found it shares a common ancestor with rodents and primates, including humans.


The study, scheduled to appear in the Oct. 11 online edition of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, describes the cranial anatomy of the extinct mammal, Labidolemur kayi. High resolution CT scans of the specimens allowed researchers to study minute details in the skull, including bone structures smaller than one-tenth of a millimeter. Similarities in bone features with other mammals show L. kayi‘s living relatives are rodents, rabbits, flying lemurs, tree shrews and primates.

Researchers said the new information will aide future studies to better understand the origin of primates.

“The specimens are among the only skulls of apatemyids known that aren’t squashed completely flat,” said study co-author Jonathan Bloch, an associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “They’re preserved in three dimensions, which allows us to look at the morphology of the bones in a way that we never could before.”

Scientists have disputed the relationships of Apatemyidae, the family that includes L. kayi, for more than a century because of their unusual physical characteristics. With can opener-shaped upper front teeth and two unusually long fingers, apatemyids have been compared to a variety of animals, from opossums to woodpeckers.

“There are only a few examples in the history of mammals where you get such an incredibly odd ecological adaptation,” Bloch said.

Like a woodpecker’s method of feeding, L. kayi used percussive foraging, or tapping on trees, to locate insects. It stood less than a foot tall, was capable of jumping between trees and looked like a squirrel with a couple of really long fingers, similar to the aye-aye, a lemur native to Madagascar, Bloch said.

Apatemyids have been preserved for tens of millions of years and are well known from Europe and North America.

The skeletons analyzed in the publication were recovered from freshwater limestone in the Bighorn Basin by co-author Peter Houde of New Mexico State University. Located just east of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, the site is known as one of the best in the world for studying the evolution of mammals during the 10 million years following the extinction of the dinosaurs, Bloch said.

Mary Silcox, first author of the study and a research associate at the Florida Museum, said scans of the specimens began about 10 years ago, during her postdoctoral work at The Pennsylvania State University.

“It’s not like medical CT, it’s actually an industrial CT scanner,” said Silcox, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “Because this is a small animal, we needed to be able to study it at a very high resolution. The high resolution CT data were a critical part.”

Doug Boyer of Stony Brook University is also a co-author of the study, part of the team’s larger research to understand the relationships of apatemyids to other mammals. Bloch and colleagues are currently writing a detailed analysis of L. kayi‘s skeleton.

John Wible, curator of mammals at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and one of the researchers who reviewed the study, said it provides valuable information for understanding the evolutionary relationships of mammals.

“It is now clear that any assessment of the origins of primates in the future will have to include apatemyids,” Wible said. “Apatemyids are not some freakish dead-end, but significant members of our own history.”

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Scientists find source of carbon lava

volcano-2

ALBUQUERQUE (UPI) — U.S. and French scientists say they have discovered the origin of carbon-based lavas erupting from a Tanzanian volcano.

The researchers, led by the University of New Mexico, analyzed gas samples collected from inside the active crater of Tanzania’s Oldoinyo Lengai volcano — the only volcano that is actively producing carbon-based lavas. The geochemical analyses revealed a very small degree of partial melting of minerals in the Earth’s upper mantle is the source of the rare carbon-derived lava.

Although carbon-based lavas, known as carbonatites, are common, the Oldoinyo Lengai volcano, located in the East African Rift in northern Tanzania, is the only place on Earth where they are actively erupting. The researchers said the lava expelled from the volcano is highly unusual in that it contains nearly no silica and greater than 50 percent carbonate minerals. Typically lavas contain high levels of silica, which increases their melting point to above 1,652 degrees Fahrenheit. The lavas of the Oldoinyo Lengai volcano erupt as a liquid at approximately 1,004 degrees Fahrenheit.

The research by the scientists from the University of New Mexico, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego and the Research Center for Petrographics and Geochemicals in Nancy, France, appears in the journal Nature.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 18th May 2009

yellow-black-line

Chocolate beer 3000 years old


mmm, chocolate

People were enjoying chocolate 3000 years ago, but in the form of alcoholic brews or beers drunk at births and weddings (Source: iStockphoto)

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People in Central America were drinking beverages made from cacao before 1000 BC, hundreds of years earlier than once thought, a new study shows.

These early cacao beverages were probably alcoholic brews, or beers, made from the fermented pulp of the cacao fruit.

These beverages were around 500 years earlier than the frothy chocolate-flavored drink made from the seed of the cacao tree that was such an important feature of later Mesoamerican culture.

But in brewing this primitive beer, or chicha, the ancient Mesoamericans may have stumbled on the secret to making chocolate-flavoured drinks, the paper says.

“In the course of beer brewing, you discover that if you ferment the seeds of the plant you get this chocolate taste,” says John Henderson, a professor of anthropology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and lead author of the paper.

“It may be that the roots of the modern chocolate industry can be traced back to this primitive fermented drink.”

The cacao bean played an important role in Mesoamerican civilisation, the native civilisation in parts of Mexico and Central America prior to the Spanish exploration and conquest of the 16th century.

The bean was a form of currency in Aztec society, and the frothed chocolate drink made from fermented beans or seeds was central to social and ritual life throughout Mesoamerica.

In the 16th century, invading Europeans acquired a taste for the beverage and brought it back to Europe, which led to the rise of the modern chocolate industry.

An elite drink

The archaeological evidence recovered by Henderson and colleagues from a site in Puerto Escondido in modern-day Honduras suggests that the beer that probably preceded the chocolate beverage was popular among wealthy people at least as early as 1100 BC.

Chemical analysis of residues found on fragments of pottery vessels recovered from the site tested positive for theobromine, a compound found in cacao trees that were limited to Central America.

The vessels were found in the “fancier, bigger houses” in the village of Puerto Escondido in the Ulua Valley in northern Honduras, says Henderson.

He suggests the elite members of society would have drunk the beverage to mark special occasions such as births and marriages.

Ancient yeast reborn in modern

beer


beer closeup

The beer has been made using a yeast that has a unique metabolism (Source: iStockphoto)

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A tiny colony of yeast trapped inside a Lebanese weevil covered in ancient Burmese amber for up to 45 million years, has been brought back to life in barrels of beer.

Emeritus Professor Raul Cano of the California Polytechnic State University, originally extracted the yeast a decade ago, along with more than 2000 different kinds of microscopic creatures.

Today, Cano uses the reactivated yeast to brew barrels of pale ale and German wheat beer.

“You can always buy brewing yeast, and your product will be based on the brewmaster’s recipes,” says Cano. “Our yeast has a double angle: We have yeast no one else has and our own beer recipes.”

The beer received good reviews at the Russian River Beer Festival and from other reviewers. The Oakland Tribune beer critic, William Brand, said the beer has “a weird spiciness at the finish,” and The Washington Post said the beer was “smooth and spicy.”

Part of that taste comes from the yeast’s unique metabolism. “The ancient yeast is restricted to a narrow band of carbohydrates, unlike more modern yeasts, which can consume just about any kind of sugar,” says Cano.

Eventually the yeast will likely evolve the ability to eat other sugars, which could change the taste of the beer. Cano plans to keep a batch of the original yeast to keep the beer true to form.

If this has a ring of deja vu, it could be because Cano’s amber-drilling technique is the same one popularised in the movie Jurassic Park, where scientists extracted ancient dinosaur DNA from the bellies of blood-sucking insects trapped in fossilised tree sap.

Cano’s original goal was to find ancient microscopic creatures that might have some kind of medical value, particularly pharmaceutical drugs.

Going to sleep

While that particular avenue of research didn’t yield significant results, the larger question of how microscopic creatures survived for millions of years could help scientists understand certain diseases, says Professor Charles Greenblatt, a scientist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem who studies ancient bacteria.

“We’ve got cases of guys who contracted [tuberculosis] during World War II and lived with it for 60, 70 years,” says Greenblatt. “Then suddenly they get another disease, the TB wakes up from its dormancy and kills them.”

Inducing dormancy could be a new way to fight disease and infection, says Greenblatt.

Instead of outright killing infectious creatures, doctors could instead put them to sleep. The infection would still be present in the patient’s body, but it wouldn’t hurt the patient.

Neither Cano nor Greenblatt can say what the upper limit for hibernating yeast or bacteria is – it could be hundreds of million years.

But while other scientists work on that, Cano plans to spend his time tossing back a few cold ones, and hoping others will too.

“We think that people will drink one beer out of curiosity,” says Cano. “But if the beer doesn’t taste good, no one will drink a second.”

Sourced and produced by Henry Sapiecha 13th May 2009

Marine organisms found in

ancient amber


diatom in amber

The researchers believe the discovery will deepen our understanding of these now extinct species (Source: Laboratoire géosciences Rennes)

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Scientists have discovered a menagerie of perfectly intact marine microorganisms trapped in tree resin at least 100 million years ago, according to a new study.

The unexpected find in the Charente region of southwestern France pushes back by at least 20 million years the period when a type of single-cell algae called diatoms are known to have appeared on earth, say the study’s authors.

The study, carried out by the National History Museum in Paris and the National Centre for Scientific Research in Strasbourg, appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

But the finding creates a mystery: how did sea creatures wind up trapped in a glob of resinated amber that oozes out of trees?

The most likely scenario, the scientists conclude, is that the forest producing the amber was very near the coast, and that the tiny organisms, which also included primitive plankton, were either carried inland by strong winds or flood waters during a storm.

“This discovery will deepen our understanding of these lost marine species as well as providing precious data about the coastal environment of western France during the Cretaceous Period,” which spanned from 145 to 65 million years ago, say researchers.

It also challenges certain theories about the evolution of these organisms, and vindicates the research of molecular geneticists, says study co-author and National History Museum scientist Jean-Paul Saint Martin.

Using “molecular clocks,” biochemists move backward in time to figure out at what point in the evolutionary process certain plant and animal species split off into different branches.

“We had no record of these microorganisms over a period of 20 million years. These fossils have filled that void in the most extraordinary manner,” Saint Martin says.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 13th May 2009

Seagrass link to seahorse upright

posture


Slideshow: Photo 1 of 2

seahorse

Seagrass was the perfect habitat for an upright-swimming seahorse, which could camouflage itself in the vertical blades (Source: Robert Harcourt)

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Seahorses evolved their upright posture some 25 million years ago, thanks in part to an expansion of vertical seagrass habitat, Australian researchers have found.

Associate Professor Luciano Beheregaray of Flinders University and Dr Peter Teske of Macquarie University report their findings in the journal Biology Letters today.

Seahorses are unique fish with a horse-shaped head and a habit of swimming upright.

Beheregaray says it has been hard for scientists to work out when exactly seahorses evolved to swim upright.

This is because there are only two known fossils of seahorses – the oldest dating back to 13 million years – and no link between these and horizontally-swimming fish had been found.

“When you look back in time, you don’t see intermediate seahorse-like fish,” says Beheregaray.

But, he says, there are fish alive today that look like horizontally-swimming seahorses and these could provide clues as to when seahorses evolved to be upright.

Pygmy pipehorses

Beheregaray and Teske compared the DNA of seahorses and other species from the same family to find out which was the closest living relative to seahorses.

“The pygmy pipehorses are by far the most seahorse-like fish on earth. They do look like the seahorses, but they swim horizontally,” says Beheregaray.

He and Teske used molecular dating techniques, which relies on the accumulation of differences in the DNA between the two species to work out when they diverged.

The researchers used the two existing fossil seahorses to calibrate the rate of evolution of DNA in their molecular clock.

And they discovered that the last common ancestor of seahorses and pygmy pipehorses lived around 25 to 28 million years ago.

Seagrass habitat

Beheregaray says at the time that seahorses arose during the Oligocene epoch coincided with the formation of vast areas of shallow water and expansion of seagrass in Australasia – where Teske has previously showed seahorses first evolved.

Seagrass was the perfect habitat for an upright-swimming seahorse, which could camouflage itself in the vertical seagrass blades, he says.

The horizontal-swimming pygmy pipehorses, by contrast, thrived in large algae on reefs and didn’t have the need to evolve the upright posture.

“The two groups split in a period when there were conditions favouring that split,” says Beheregaray.

“It’s like us. We started walking upright when we moved to the savannahs. On the other hand, the seahorses invaded the new vast areas of seagrass.”

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 13th May 2009