A team of international researchers including McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
affiliated faculty member Chien Ho, PhD (pictured), professor of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) as well as the director of the Pittsburgh Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Center for Biomedical Research (an effort jointly sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh and CMU), has "resurrected" authentic woolly mammoth hemoglobin - the blood protein responsible for delivering oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. The research has discovered special evolutionary adaptations that allowed the iconic Ice Age creatures to cool down their extremities in harsh Arctic conditions and minimize costly heat loss. Implications of the work could include clues for how to produce the next generation of human blood substitute, Dr. Ho said to Mike Cronin, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
As published, the team describes sequencing hemoglobin genes from the DNA of three permafrost-preserved Siberian mammoths that lived between 25,000 and 43,000 years ago.
The genetic codes were sent to Dr. Ho’s CMU lab where he has been studying hemoglobin and blood substitutes for more than 20 years and has developed techniques for creating genetically engineered hemoglobins. Using recombinant DNA methods, Dr. Ho and his colleague, Dr. Tong-Jian Shen, were able to convert a plasmid containing the genetic information from Asian elephant hemoglobin into one identical to that of a woolly mammoth. The plasmids were inserted into modern-day E. coli bacteria, which then faithfully manufactured the mammoth protein.
"This is a very powerful way to study evolution," Dr. Ho said.
The team used structural modeling and a battery of modern scientific tests to uncover unique molecular and biochemical properties that helped mammoths to withstand extreme environmental cold.
"This is the first time we've been able to study biological processes of an extinct animal in precisely the same way we would for living species," says team leader Kevin Campbell of the University of Manitoba.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Carnegie Mellon University Press Release (05/03/10)
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (05/02/10)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (05/03/10)
Bio: Dr. Chien Ho
Abstract (Nature Genetics; (05/02/10))