The woolly mammoth and the modern elephant are two animals that have historically been compared a great deal. That is because they have similarities from a structure standpoint, and technically, are decedents of the same species. However, one question that has really pushed scientists recently is one regarding the genealogical differences between the two animals. While one was wiped out by a severe climate-related event, the second seems to have survived just fine thus far. However, that could change down the road, and perhaps knowing now what genes were responsible for the change between the elephant and woolly mammoth could give us greater insight into the relationship between the two.
Vincent Lynch, who led the study pointed out that, “This is by far the most comprehensive study to look at the genetic changes that make a woolly mammoth a woolly mammoth.” The study, which found an abundant 1.4 million genetic variations between the modern elephant and woolly mammoth of days gone by, yielded one of the most impressive figures that scientists have ever had to date. While the woolly mammoth has been one of the most-studied creatures in human history, their variations from the modern elephant are really impressive.
The team pointed out that this is significant for the understanding of how evolution truly works. Lynch went on to point out that the elephants and woolly mammoth, “Are an excellent model to understand how morphological evolution works, because mammoths are so closely related to living elephants, which have none of the traits they had.”
This is a great study because it opens the door to so much more when it comes to understanding about what woolly mammoths actually brought to the world when they did roam Earth. The study also found that around 1,600 genes changed entirely from the woolly mammoth to the elephant, while 26 lost function. One particular gene was even duplicated and replaced. These significant changes are interesting because they show just how impressive the changes that take place in the body of any organism when we’re talking about millions of years of evolutionary time to sit between.
Most interestingly the TRPV3 gene, which negotiated temperature sensation, is the gene with the most change happening in it. The change that occurred between the woolly mammoth and the modern elephant is one of the most significant changes that have ever been encountered. The move is one that really changed the evolutionary speed of the entire creature for better or worse, and what makes elephants so distinctly different than their long-lost family member.