The race to see who opens a real “Jurassic Park” first is on. Of course, there is no shortage of skeptics, detractors and both scientific and moral debates about bringing extinct species back to life. For now, it is impossible to achieve such a goal with dinosaurs, but it seems a possible way with mummified animals that have remained frozen for thousands of years. This is the case of a bison found in the Siberian permafrost. The remains have been exceptionally preserved and, in addition to allowing an exhaustive study of the extinct species, a team of scientists believe that it could be brought back to life.
An 8000 year old bison
The mummified animal is a bison of an unknown extinct species. It was discovered in the summer of 2022 after being partially visible due to the melting of the ice in the area. It appeared in the town of Khaastaakh, Verkhoyansk region, in Russia’s Eastern Siberia. The discoverers donated it selflessly to the Northwestern Federal University Mammoth Museum (NEFU) in Yakutsk. From the institution a press release was published in which the spectacular finding and its possibilities of study were told.
The found remains of the bison do not present the body in its entirety. The mummy has preserved the head, front legs and part of the chest. In the images that accompany these words, it was possible to verify the extraordinary level of conservation that the specimen presents. In the necropsy to which it has been submitted, the scientists have extracted samples of horn, skin, wool, bones, fat and muscle tissue, to which is added the unusual circumstance of having almost complete brain preserved. Undoubtedly, an excellent opportunity to meet a species dated between 8000 and 9000 years old. In the words of Hwang Woo Suk, a NEFU contributor:
“We are working with a unique find that could be cloned in the future thanks to the selected materials.”
The difficulties of de-extinction
The researchers plan to return to the area where the bison mummy was found in search of more specimens that add information with which to work with a view to possible cloning. However, in a statement to Live Sciences, the paleogenetic Love Dalén defended that:
“From my point of view, it will not be possible to clone extinct animals from tissues like this […] To make cloning possible, one needs to find intact chromosomes, but what we see in even the best specimens is that each chromosome is broken into millions of pieces. […] You are more likely to be able to flip a coin and get heads a thousand times in a row than to find an intact chromosome from a specimen that is thousands of years old.”
One of the ways with the greatest chance of success would be to combine the genome of this bison with that of other extinct and living species. In any case, even achieving the difficult milestone of extincting a species for which thousands of years have passed since its disappearance, there are important biological challenges that call into question the compatibility of these extinct animals with current ecosystems.
However, these dilemmas do not stop the momentum of companies determined to demonstrate that in a few years we will be able to see animals such as mammoths, dodos and, who knows if also Siberian bison, alive.
- Baker, H. 2023. Scientists want to clone an extinct bison unearthed from Siberian permafrost. Experts are skeptical. livescience.com.
- NEFU press service. 2023. NEFU conducted an autopsy on an ancient bison. s-vfu.ru.