Scientists in Russia have extracted liquid blood from a horse that is more than 42,000 years old.
The blood and tissue from the horse’s body were extracted with the intent to eventually clone the horse—an accomplishment that would give legitimacy to other attempts at bringing back extinct species.
“This is only the second case in paleontology where scientists recorded liquid blood,” Semyon Grigoriev, head of the Mammoth Museum at the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, told Motherboard. “In 2013, our team unearthed half of an adult female mammoth carcass also with liquid blood.”
The foal, which researchers say was only a few weeks old, was uncovered in August 2018 trapped in permafrost 30 meters deep in the Batagai depression in eastern Siberia. Permafrost, which is soil or rock that remains frozen for two or more years, allowed the horse’s body to remain largely intact and its skin, hair, muscle tissues, and organs well-preserved.
“This is extremely rare for paleontological finds,” Grigoryiev said. “Some of them are either incomplete, fragmented, with serious body deformations or strongly mummified.”
The horse belongs to the Lenskaya breed, or Lena horse, which was native Yakutia region of Siberia where it was found, but is now extinct. Samples of the liquid blood were taken from the animal’s well-preserved heart tissue.
Cloning research organization Sooam Biotech is most known for the cloning of pets in South Korea and is led by Hwang Woo-suk, a veterinarian and scientist who was once convicted of falsifying his research and embezzling government funds.
The team, made up of researchers from the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk and the South Korean Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, must be able to extract and grow cells from the horse to clone it, which after two months of trying and 20 attempts it hasn’t been able to do. Grigoryiev maintains hope, but says a successful cloning still remains unlikely.
“This is an extremely difficult task using traditional methods and technologies of animal cloning,” Grigoryiev said. “Even with the apparent good preservation of the cells after the death of the animal the cells are destroying and DNA begins to fragment.” He noted that attempts at cloning more recently extinct species, like the tasmanian wolf which was declared extinct in 1982, have also been unsuccessful.
The same team is currently working on replicating cells from the wooly mammoth also found in Siberia in 2013.
After research on the horse is done, expected in June, it will be transported to Japan to be included in a year-long exhibition along with other samples of extinct animals such as a wooly mammoth, an ancient partridge, and a Siberian bison.