Hemoglobin produced with woolly mammoth DNA may help scientists produce cold-resistant artificial blood products useful in certain surgeries.
Woolly mammoths may have gone extinct thousands of years ago, but scientists are looking to the elephant-like creatures to provide a key assist in their effort to develop artificial blood products for use in medical procedures that require patients’ body temperatures to be reduced.
When mammoths migrated from warm regions to colder ones between 1.2 and 2.0 million years ago, they adapted to their new environment by growing thick fur and smaller ears—and, as scientists have recently discovered, via a mutation in their hemoglobin, the protein in blood that transports oxygen from the lungs to tissues.
The researchers used DNA harvested from three mammoths that lived in Siberia 25,000 to 43,000 years ago to produce mammoth hemoglobin and then tested its performance against hemoglobin from Asian elephants (which are related to mammoths) and humans. The mammoth hemoglobin proved much less sensitive to temperature changes and was able to deliver oxygen to tissues at significantly colder temperatures than the other hemoglobin.
Scientists hope to use the mammoth hemoglobin as a model for developing artificial blood products that could be used during heart and brain surgeries that required induced hypothermia.
The research appeared in the American Chemical Society journal Biochemistry
Woolly mammoth’s secrets for shrugging off cold points toward new artificial blood for humans [American Chemical Society Press Release]