Agilent and the Decline of the Woolly Mammoth

The woolly mammoth, a prehistoric relative of today’s African elephant, began declining 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age.  A small population endured until 1700 B.C. when the species became completely extinct.

In recent years, several complete mammoth specimens have been found, fully preserved in permafrost.  These discoveries have given scientists a rare opportunity to study the decline and extinction of a prehistoric species.

The process of extinction tends to follow a pattern.  First, there is a steady decline in both number and geographic distribution.  This is followed by increased inbreeding and a loss a genetic diversity.

Researchers in Sweden and the U.S. were able to test this by genetically examining two woolly mammoths separated by 1,000 kilometers and 40,000 years.  The first was a 44,800-year-old specimen from northeastern Siberia.  The second was a 4,300-year-old specimen, one of the last surviving individuals from Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean.

The more recent specimen showed 20 percent less diversity between the paternal and maternal chromosomes.  This confirms that by 1700 B.C. the species had experienced several generations of inbreeding, which reduced genetic diversity and the mammoth’s ability to adapt to a changing habitat.

Scientists have used Agilent genomics and chemical analysis solutions, including the Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer system, to study the diet, ecology and DNA of the woolly mammoth and other ancient species.

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