DNA clues to why woolly mammoth died out

Mar 3, 2017

By Helen Briggs

The last woolly mammoths to walk the Earth were so wracked with genetic disease that they lost their sense of smell, shunned company, and had a strange shiny coat.

That’s the verdict of scientists who have analysed ancient DNA of the extinct animals for mutations.

The studies suggest the last mammoths died out after their DNA became riddled with errors.

The knowledge could inform conservation efforts for living animals.

There are fewer than 100 Asiatic cheetahs left in the wild, while the remaining mountain gorilla population is estimated at about 300. The numbers are similar to those of the last woolly mammoths living on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean around 4,000 years ago.

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3 comments on “DNA clues to why woolly mammoth died out

  • I always wondered about animals on isolated islands in the Pacific Ocean. Maybe their ancestors floated or flew to these islands, but once they became sedentary, their genetic diversity must not have been very great. The same must be true for human Polynesian migrants who made it to these Pacific Islands. Their genetic pool must also have been very limited. And yet, they survived and multiplied.



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  • prietenul #1
    Mar 4, 2017 at 6:01 am

    The same must be true for human Polynesian migrants who made it to these Pacific Islands. Their genetic pool must also have been very limited. And yet, they survived and multiplied.

    The Polynesians were skilled navigators who travelled extensively between islands. Some of the islands (such as New Zealand), are also very large.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polynesian_navigation

    Polynesian navigation was used for thousands of years to make long voyages across thousands of miles of open ocean. Navigators travelled to small inhabited islands using only their own senses and knowledge passed by oral tradition from master to apprentice, often in the form of song. Compared to the European navigators, Polynesian navigation relied on skill and using the natural tools around them to travel the vast ocean and thus needed no instruments.

    I always wondered about animals on isolated islands in the Pacific Ocean. Maybe their ancestors floated or flew to these islands, but once they became sedentary, their genetic diversity must not have been very great.

    The changed environment brings different selection pressures, so island evolution often results in new branches which can include giant or dwarf forms of the earlier migrant species or loss of unnecessary features – as in the flightless cormorants of the Galapagos, or the ability to swim in adult land-crabs.



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  • 3
    Garrick says:

    prietenul #1
    Mar 4, 2017 at 6:01 am
    The same must be true for human Polynesian migrants who made it to these Pacific Islands. Their genetic pool must also have been very limited. And yet, they survived and multiplied.

    Bear in mind, Prietenul, that the Pacific islands that have been long inhabited by humans are situated in groups, and between the islands in each group, be it Hawaii, the Marquises, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and so on, there was always plenty of toing and froing. Inhabited Pacific islands were not isolated. It should then come as no surprise that there is no evidence of defective gene-pools among the Melanesians and Polynesians who mostly populated the Pacific islands.



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