When it came to surviving freezing weather, mammoths relied on more than their woolly coats: even their blood was specially adapted to let them thrive in chilly climes. Their hemoglobin functioned well over a larger range of temperatures than does the hemoglobin found in modern elephants—and in humans. That finding is in the journal Biochemistry. [Yue Yuan et al., "A Biochemical–Biophysical Study of Hemoglobins from Woolly Mammoth, Asian Elephant, and Humans"]
Mammoth veins have, of course, long run dry. But researchers from North America, the U.K. and Australia extracted fragments of nucleic acids from three mammoth specimens, creating hemoglobin based on its coding DNA sequence. The recovered mammoths died in Siberia between 25,000 and 43,000 years ago.
The reconstructed mammoth hemoglobin could deliver oxygen at colder temperatures than the human form of the protein could handle. With mammoth hemoglobin as a guide, scientists hope to engineer blood products that will oxygenate our bodies during those medical procedures—such as some heart and brain surgeries—that require the big chill known as induced hypothermia. Mammoths may be long dead, but the secrets of their blood could help keep some people alive.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
[Estimate of mammoth call performed by elephant to the best of its ability.]