A mammoth task -- sorting out mammoth evolution

May 30, 2011
An illustrated figure of the Columbian mammoth and the woolly mammoth

Mammoths were a diverse genus that roamed across Eurasia and North America during the Pleistocene era. In continental North America, at least two highly divergent species have long been recognized – woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) and Columbian mammoths (M. columbi). But new genetic evidence published in BioMed Central's open access journal Genome Biology suggests that these species may have been closely related enough to mate when they had the chance.

Remains of woolly mammoths have been found across the glacial tundra-steppe of Eurasia and northern North America, while the much physically larger Columbian mammoths inhabited the savannah environments of temperate southern and central North America. The differences between the species have long been considered as unique adaptations to the environments where they evolved. But by piecing together trace fragments of DNA from an 11 thousand year-old Columbian mammoth from Fairview, Utah, a team of Canadian, American and French researchers found that surprisingly the mitochondrial genome from this mammoth was nearly indiscernible from that of its northern woolly counterparts.

But the group does not suspect that this requires a re-write of North American mammoth evolution. "We think this individual may have been a woolly-Columbian hybrid," says Jacob Enk of the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre, the group that led the research. "Living African elephant species interbreed where their ranges adjoin, with males of the bigger species out-competing the smaller for mates. This results in mitochondrial genomes from the smaller species showing up in populations of the larger. Since woolly and Columbian ranges periodically overlapped in time and space, it's likely that they engaged in similar behaviour and left a similar genetic signal." The team goes on to suggest that interbreeding may explain some mammoth fossils that have intermediate physical characteristics, between woollies and Columbians, sometimes assigned to the M. jeffersonii.

They do not rule out other explanations however, and note that the only way to know for sure whether their was a hybrid is to sequence nuclear DNA from it and other mammoths. For poorly-preserved remains like those of southern-ranging Columbians, this will be a challenge. But they expect that by exploiting new cutting-edge sequencing technologies, the nuclear genomes of these amazing animals are within reach.

Explore further: Seeing double: Africa's 2 elephant species

More information: The Complete Columbian mammoth mitogenome suggests interbreeding with woolly mammoths, Jacob Enk, Regis Debruyne, Alison Devault, Christine E King, Todd Treangen, Dennis O'Rourke, Steven L Salzberg, Daniel Fisher, Ross MacPhee and Hendrik Poinar, Genome Biology (in press)

Related Stories

Seeing double: Africa's 2 elephant species

December 21, 2010

Contrary to the belief of many scientists (as well as many members of the public), new research confirms that Africa has two—not one—species of elephant. Scientists from Harvard Medical School, the University of ...

Steppe change: Mammoths roamed southern Spain

July 9, 2009

Remains of woolly mammoths have been found in southern Spain, proving that the chilly grip of the last Ice Age extended farther south than thought, palaeontologists said on Thursday.

What, or who, killed the last mammoths?

March 31, 2010

The last known population of woolly mammoths, roaming a remote Arctic island long after humans invented writing, were wiped out quickly, reports a study released Wednesday.

Being good moms couldn't save the woolly mammoth (w/ Video)

December 21, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- New research from The University of Western Ontario leads investigators to believe that woolly mammoths living north of the Arctic Circle during the Pleistocene Epoch (approx. 150,000 to 40,000 years ago) ...

Recommended for you

Energy-saving LEDs boost light pollution worldwide

November 22, 2017

They were supposed to bring about an energy revolution—but the popularity of LED lights is driving an increase in light pollution worldwide, with dire consequences for human and animal health, researchers said Wednesday.

Re-cloning of first cloned dog deemed successful thus far

November 22, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers with Seoul National University, Michigan State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has re-cloned the first dog to be cloned. In their paper published in the journal ...

Testing the advantage of being left-handed in sports

November 22, 2017

(Phys.org)—Sports scientist Florian Loffing with the Institute of Sport Science, University of Oldenburg in Germany has conducted a study regarding the possibility of left-handed athletes having an advantage over their ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (11) May 31, 2011
This is more like sorting out Mammoth relations rather than evolution. The researchers are on a hiding to nothing if they think they can find out the ancestoral path of the Mammoths.
By the way, notice the language which clearly points out just how shaky the ground is for any origins research: "We think this...", "it's likely that...", "that interbreeding may..." and so on. There's absolutely no way that certainty can be obtained when speculating about things that happened in the past because you just cannot go back there to observe it. No one was there to observe and carefully document how a reptile changed into a mammoth. That is why you have to take it all on faith. And hence evolution[the one-ancestor for all type] is a religion.
3.5 / 5 (4) May 31, 2011
Haha you religious nut-cases are all the same. Only smart people can claim they don't know everything. Not like the delusional... who have the answer "it's my imaginary friend, whom I both fear and love upon punishment of an eternity of pain and burning, that made these animals... individually unique!" Next time you talk to your Gawd can you ask her why you have tonsils and an appendix. I always wanted to know that.

What they are finding here isn't the answer to the evolutionary sequence of Mammoths in the world. They are finding is that the two species might have bumped uglies and produced the mammoth that they found. The behaviour can be seen today with African elephants. So it's possible that this can show how this particular 'hybrid' developed.

When scientists are learning they ALWAYS use language like "We think this..", "it's likely that...", "that interbreeding may..." because only MORONS use absolutes when talking about something they don't know.
5 / 5 (2) May 31, 2011
Oh, why complain about @kvtrs? He amuses himself with his "I hate science" posts and everyone else amuses themselves by giving him one star. (One wishes there were zero or less stars, but that would lead to a the race to negative infinity.) Certainly no sensible person would think there was
any SERIOUS point to the game.

I turn off my filtering momentarily just to add a ding. Yes, it's a very low-value entertainment, but given the negligible cost the laughs have their value.
1 / 5 (3) May 31, 2011
That species distinctions are frequently arbitrary enters into this discussion. We use artificial selection to select for characteristics we want in our livestock and pets but we don't claim to be creating new species. What evidence do we have that all elephants living and extinct aren't as closely related as domestic dogs?

That things evolved over time isn't in dispute. The "I believe in evolution" orthodoxy is thick in this piece with it's characterisation of the interbreeding of varieties of elephant as resulting in a "hybrid"

Is a Doberman/Collie cross a hybrid? I
1 / 5 (52) May 31, 2011
Oh, why complain about @kvtrs?

Now that Quantum_Conundrum (Spectator) admitted to getting banned for religious nuttery, I've redoubled my efforts to report kevin everytime he mentions evolution. It's scientific fact and this is a science website. Go elsewhere. Become a street preacher. Anything.
not rated yet May 31, 2011
Now that Quantum_Conundrum (Spectator) admitted to getting banned for religious nuttery, I've redoubled my efforts to report kevin everytime he mentions evolution.

Good idea. It's more constructive than complaining. And I would suspect, more fun.

5 / 5 (2) May 31, 2011
Well, I added my "inappropriate" vote on @kvtrs ... possibly it might be useful to add a comment on any thread he posts to suggest others might enjoy doing likewise.

Next, we deal with Ollie Manuel and his attempts to use Physorg to spam his crackpot science.
not rated yet Jun 02, 2011
Yeah he even cut and pastes his posts now. Anything to do with stars you can always count on poor Ollie to try and swede us with his nerd cred as a PI for NASA (the very institution he blames for being a part of a giant conspiracy against neutron repulsion).
Hmmm a bit off topic... maybe we should continue this over on the Astronomy section?
5 / 5 (1) Jun 06, 2011
That is why you have to take it all on faith. And hence evolution[the one-ancestor for all type] is a religion.

Let me explain this to you yet again, Kev:

Science follows the LOGICAL steps:
1. I don't know.
2. I observe.
3. I speculate and theorize.
4. I test/experiment.
5. I analyze results.
6. I update my theories to conform to experimental results rather than emotional pondering.
7. I repeat.

The results are fact and observation based. There's no "faith" required. Worst case is "best guess" based on observation and experimentation.

Now that you know that (and we already know you did because it's been explained to you ad infinitum), we will rightly call you a liar and I'll refer you back to this thread to remind you that we know you know.

Answer me this: If the universe is only 6000 years old, why is it that we see objects more than 6000 light years away?

Poof! I just made Kev disappear.

@whoyougonacal: Dark entertainment value and to cover the bases.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.