Mammoths lived from the Pliocene epoch, about 5 million years ago, into the current Holocene epoch; dying out about four thousand years ago. Many lived in Arctic tundra regions in Siberia and northern Canada, where many frozen, relatively well-preserved mammoth “mummies” have been found in permafrost. Scientists have been able to extract mammoth DNA from these remains. Unfortunately, the mammoth DNA samples have been degraded by the long-term actions of water and oxygen and have been contaminated with DNA from other sources, such as: (1) bacteria that lived symbiotically in or on the mammoth, or (2) bacteria and fungi that existed in the environment where the mammoth was found. Techniques exist to discriminate original mammoth DNA fragments from these other DNA sources. Genetically, the mammoth is more closely related to the modern Asian elephant than the African elephant. Scientists are working to complete the mapping of the mammoth genome and identify all the differences with the Asian elephant genome. In the not too distant future, it appears that it will be possible to splice mammoth DNA fragments into the complete DNA sequence of an Asian elephant. If this work is successful, we may have the opportunity to visit a living mammoth in a “Pliocene Park” somewhere in the Arctic.
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