On public display in Yokohama, Japan, Yuka is the best preserved mammoth in the history of paleontology, at a ripe old age of 39,000 years. Found three years ago, she’s so well preserved that tissue, hair/fur, and even the brain is intact.
Yuka was found three years ago in the Siberian permafrost and was between six to eleven years old when she died. The mammoth takes her name from the Yukaghir coastline; Yuka is also a common girl’s name in Japan, paving the way for countless cute cuddly toys.
Lead researcher Semyon Grigoriev explained to The Siberian Times in May that Yuka stayed in such good condition because she remained frozen for a long, unbroken period of time.
“We suppose that the mammoth fell into water or got bogged down in a swamp, could not free herself and died. Due to this fact the lower part of the body, including the lower jaw and tongue tissue, was preserved very well. The upper torso and two legs, which were in the soil, were gnawed by prehistoric and modern predators and almost did not survive.”
Although the carcass was frozen for millennia, the team was even able to extract flowing blood from Yuka — the first time scientists have managed to do so. “Our suspicion is that mammoth blood contains a kind of natural anti-freeze,” says Grigoriev.
South Korean scientists have signed a deal giving them rights to attempt to clone the mammoth; Hwang Woo-suk, who produced the world’s first cloned dog in 2005 before being convicted of lying about breakthroughs in human stem cell research, has taken delivery of tissue samples that may contain intact cells.
However, serious doubt remains over whether it is possible to find or construct a complete, viable mammoth genome from such old material. “Every time a new well-preserved mammoth is found,” said Professor Adrian Lister of London’s Natural History Museum to The Guardian, “people also repeat the claim that we will soon be able to clone them, and I very much doubt that we will.”