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Awful Genetics Caused the Extinction of the Last Mammoths on Earth




  • As the numbers of mammoths grew smaller, so did their choices for mates.
  • The last ones died in the small and isolated Wrangel Island in Russia.
  • Scientists tested their genes and found out they contained mutations that impaired vital functions.

The huge woolly mammoths must have made an arresting and frightening sight to anyone who has seen them, which was around 4,000 years ago. The last of these massive creatures sadly died during this time and the primary cause was said to be their own fault: extremely faulty genetics.

The last mammoths lived on Wrangel Island, north of Russia in the isolated frozen Arctic region. Unlike other species, their extinction was not caused by outside factors. They were not hunted down or crushed by a humongous meteor, as is supposedly the case with dinosaurs.

These giants (Mammuthus primigenius) suffered from a bunch of genetic diseases, caused by lack of genetic diversity.

When their numbers dwindled down and the choice of mates grew much smaller, they ended up procreating with the same circle over and over, which led to genetic mutations.

Horrible genes led to their demise.

It’s not just a case of genome sequencing. Scientists figured this out when they resurrected the dead mammoths’ genes, placing them in elephant embryo cells in the laboratory. They checked to see how well they will function.

Wrangel Island today, where the mammoths made their last stand thousands of years ago.

As it turned out, the mammoth genes performed badly. They contained mutations that impaired vital functions, such as sense of smell and male fertility.

Vincent Lynch, evolutionary biologist at the University of Buffalo said:

“The key innovation of our paper is that we actually resurrect Wrangel Island mammoth genes to test whether their mutations actually were damaging (most mutations don’t actually do anything).”

According to Lynch, knowing that the last mammoths were likely an “unhealthy population” makes their history “a cautionary tale for living species threatened with extinction.” Besides, animals with small populations may likewise “accumulate deleterious mutations that can contribute to their extinction.”

This is not the first study done in relation to the death of the Wrangel Island mammoths. In 2019, scientists discovered dramatic changes in the mammoths’ diet that link to environmental changes in their time. This was done by doing isotope analysis of the mammoths’ teeth and bones.

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