Mammoths Survived Cold with “Antifreeze Blood”

Recommended Videos

According to a study recently published in Nature Genetics, scientists may have just figured out one of the adaptations by which now-extinct mammoths survived extremely cold temperatures during the Ice Age: so-called “antifreeze blood.” More specifically (BBC level of specificity): “a genetic adaptation allowing their haemoglobin to release oxygen into the body even at low temperatures.” Even more specifically (Nature Genetics level of specificity): “We identify amino acid substitutions with large phenotypic effect on the chimeric β/δ-globin subunit of mammoth hemoglobin that provide a unique solution to this problem and thereby minimize energetically costly heat loss.” Fun!

In essence: The geneticists took some frozen woolly mammoth DNA, found genes coding for the production of hemoglobin [the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells], and used it to make E. coli into mammoth hemoglobin factories. They then compared that hemoglobin to hemoglobin from Asian elephants and found key changes that allowed for low-temperature oxygen transfer.

In diagram form:

There may not be any immediate applications here until we start gene-hacking our offspring to live on cold Martian bases, but it’s a neat example of the intersection between physiology and genetics.

(BBC via Presurfer)


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article What Caused the Weekend’s Major Aurora Borealis Phenomenon?
Aurora Borealis over a farmhouse.
Read Article Entomologist Brought to Tears in Response to Her Positive Book Reviews
Dr. Megan Wilkerson book: A to Z Bug Facts Coloring Book: Explore 28 Insects With 60+ Unique Facts
Read Article Important Science Alert! NASA Just Sent a Cat Video From Space!
An orange cat chases a laser on a couch with technical graphics superimposed on the image.
Read Article Scientists Make Major Breakthrough in Treating Morning Sickness
A young pregnant woman of African decent sits on a sofa in the comfort of her own home as she cradles her belly with her hands. She is dressed casually as she looks down at her belly with anticipation.
Read Article Guess What? We’re Bringing the Dodo Back!
The dodo from the animated Alice in Wonderland, smoking a pipe.
Related Content
Read Article What Caused the Weekend’s Major Aurora Borealis Phenomenon?
Aurora Borealis over a farmhouse.
Read Article Entomologist Brought to Tears in Response to Her Positive Book Reviews
Dr. Megan Wilkerson book: A to Z Bug Facts Coloring Book: Explore 28 Insects With 60+ Unique Facts
Read Article Important Science Alert! NASA Just Sent a Cat Video From Space!
An orange cat chases a laser on a couch with technical graphics superimposed on the image.
Read Article Scientists Make Major Breakthrough in Treating Morning Sickness
A young pregnant woman of African decent sits on a sofa in the comfort of her own home as she cradles her belly with her hands. She is dressed casually as she looks down at her belly with anticipation.
Read Article Guess What? We’re Bringing the Dodo Back!
The dodo from the animated Alice in Wonderland, smoking a pipe.