MARCH 3, 2017 —The shaggy megafauna that roamed Siberia and North America together with our ancestors captivate the imagination, but now it looks like they’re giving us a practical lesson in genetics that could help inform conservation efforts.
Scientists compared the DNA of two mammoths: a member of a dwindling island population with an individual from the booming herds of the more distant past. Their findings, published Thursday in the journal PLOS Genetics, provided some of the first concrete proof of the genetic theories describing how population size affects genetic fitness. “Genomic meltdown” may have doomed the last herd of mammoths, a conclusion that on its face suggests dire consequences for modern endangered species, but that could also offer valuable insight into how to best keep today’s rarest creatures from crossing the threshold into extinction.
The furry beasts ruled the tundra for over a million years until…
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