Last mammoths lost the ability to smell flowers
February 9, 2020 | 2 comments
Mammoths held on until around 4,000 years ago. Image Credit: CC BY 2.5 Public Library of Science
By 'resurrecting' the DNA of extinct mammoths, scientists have learned what may have contributed to their demise.
Perhaps the most recognizable of all extinct Ice Age mammals, the majestic woolly mammoth is often associated with a time long before modern human civilization started to appear on the scene.
Incredibly however, despite most mammoths disappearing between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago, a few isolated populations managed to hold on against all the odds.
Now scientists working on 'resurrecting' the genes of mammoths that once lived in an isolated population on a Siberian island until around 4,000 years ago have revealed that these last few individuals suffered from a variety of potentially debilitating genetic defects.
By comparing their genes to those of modern elephants, the researchers found that the mammoths would have experienced infertility, problems with neurological development and may have even lost the ability to smell flowers - all factors that could have contributed to their eventual demise.
It is thought that the small population size on the island (300 to 500 animals) may have limited the gene pool and made long-term survival virtually impossible.
While this may not have been the ultimate reason for their extinction, it was certainly another nail in the coffin for what little remained of the woolly mammoth population at that time in history.
By the year 1650 BC, the last few individuals that were left had all but died out.
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