Not the warmer temperatures, but its own genes may have meant the end of the woolly mammoth. After all, a recent study published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution shows that the last woolly mammoth had many disabilities.
Some 4,000 years ago, the very last woolly mammoth knew its fate on the island of Wrangel, located off the coast of Siberia. On the one hand, this had to do with the end of the last Ice Age. On the other hand, gene research now shows that the last mammoth was doomed to die out anyway, regardless of the change in temperature.
Scientists at the University in New York started using the DNA of the latest woolly mammoths, compared it to the DNA of Asian elephants and DNA from older mammoths. It showed that the DNA of the mammoth, which lived about 4,000 years ago, looked very different from the DNA of a mammoth that is about 10,000 years old.
To find out which DNA did better, the researchers took a second step to see what work the genes were doing. They checked the genes of the extinct mammoths, and then quickly bumped into some defects.
Lack of sense of smell
“We know how the genes are responsible for observing odors,” said researcher Vincent Lynch. Only those genes were found not to function properly in the woolly mammoth: “From this, we can deduce from that the mammoths on Wrangel Island were unable to smell the flowers they ate.”
More serious than the lack of sense of smell were the genetic defects that thwarted both the development and reproduction of the mammoth. These defects were probably due to a rapidly shrinking population of mammoths, which has made inbreeding increasingly common. This inbreeding, in turn, led to the accumulation of harmful genetic mutations.
And so the study not only sheds new light on the cause of death of the latest woolly mammoth but also warns of species currently threatened with extinction. “If their populations become too small, they can also collect harmful mutations that then contribute to their extinction.”