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Meet Yuka, the 39,000-year-old mummified woolly mammoth scientists want to clone

The 'best preserved mammoth in the history of paleontology' goes on show in Japan

yuka hero
yuka hero

Japan took a break from its obsession with the future this week as a new exhibition sent visitors 39,000 years back into the past. That's the estimated age of Yuka, a mummified woolly mammoth that has just been placed on public display for the first time ever. The show runs until September.

Yuka was found three years ago in the Siberian permafrost and was between six to eleven years old when she died. The mammoth takes her name from the Yukaghir coastline; Yuka is also a common girl's name in Japan, paving the way for countless cute cuddly toys.

The exhibition is big news in the country, with colossal posters adorning buildings in the bustling Shibuya entertainment district. Rather than a museum, it's being held at Yokohama's Pacifico convention center, normally used for large events such as the CP+ photography show.

Calling the discovery "the best preserved mammoth in the history of paleontology," lead researcher Semyon Grigoriev explained to The Siberian Times in May that Yuka stayed in such good condition because she remained frozen for a long, unbroken period of time.

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"We suppose that the mammoth fell into water or got bogged down in a swamp, could not free herself and died. Due to this fact the lower part of the body, including the lower jaw and tongue tissue, was preserved very well. The upper torso and two legs, which were in the soil, were gnawed by prehistoric and modern predators and almost did not survive."

Although the carcass was frozen for millennia, the team was even able to extract flowing blood from Yuka — the first time scientists have managed to do so. "Our suspicion is that mammoth blood contains a kind of natural anti-freeze," says Grigoriev.

South Korean scientists have signed a deal giving them rights to attempt to clone the mammoth; Hwang Woo-suk, who produced the world's first cloned dog in 2005 before being convicted of lying about breakthroughs in human stem cell research, has taken delivery of tissue samples that may contain intact cells.

However, serious doubt remains over whether it is possible to find or construct a complete, viable mammoth genome from such old material. "Every time a new well-preserved mammoth is found," said Professor Adrian Lister of London's Natural History Museum to The Guardian, "people also repeat the claim that we will soon be able to clone them, and I very much doubt that we will."

Woolly mammoth exhibition in Yokohama, Japan


Yuka is being shown in a cabinet with a temperature of 14 Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius) in order to prevent decomposition.