Skip to comments.Gene Reveals Mammoth Coat Colour
Posted on 07/06/2006 12:43:11 PM PDT by blam
Gene reveals mammoth coat colour
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News
Woolly mammoths had both dark and light coats
The coat colour of mammoths that roamed the Earth thousands of years ago has been determined by scientists.
Some of the curly tusked animals would have sported dark brown coats, while others had pale ginger or blond hair.
The information was extracted from a 43,000-year-old woolly mammoth bone from Siberia using the latest genetic techniques.
Writing in the journal Science, the researchers said a gene called Mc1r was controlling the beasts' coat colours.
This gene is responsible for hair-colour in some modern mammals, too.
In humans, reduced activity of the Mc1r gene causes red hair, while in dogs, mice and horses it results in yellow hair.
Using ancient DNA extracted from the excavated mammoth bone, the international team of researchers were able to look at the variations in copies of the Mc1r gene.
Dr Michael Hofreiter, an author on the paper and an evolutionary biologist from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany, said analysis revealed two different versions of the gene were present - a fully active and a partially active version.
The researchers propose that hair coloration in mammoths is likely to have been determined in the same way as in present-day mammals.
This means that mammoths with one copy of the active gene and one of the partially active gene would have had dark coats - most likely dark brown or black.
While mammoths with two copies of the inactive gene would have had paler coats - possibly blond or ginger.
Light-coloured fur camouflages mice on the beaches of Florida
The scientists said they were unsure why different-coloured mammoths existed.
Other research published in the same journal found that beach mice, whose coat colour is also controlled by the Mc1r gene, have varying colours for survival reasons.
The researchers said Florida beach mice were lighter than their mainland cousins because their pale fur helped them to hide from predators in their sand-dune habitat.
But Dr Hofreiter said it was unlikely that mammoths had varied coats for camouflage.
He said: "They were very big - so even a blond mammoth would have been easy to spot."
Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) were common about 50,000 years ago, during the late Pleistocene epoch.
They were about the size of an Indian elephant, but with shaggy woolly coats and tusks measuring over 4m long.
They are thought to have died out about 4,500 years ago.
From what size predator, would a wooly mammoth have needed to evolve an ability to hide?
I think early man hunted them, IIRC.
From that largest and most voracious of all predators, global cooling. Those with the lighter fur did better at the glacier edge while the darker furred animals roamed in warmer climes. /total conjecture
Then there are the animals that attack in packs. Get inside, and under the 12ft+ tusks, and it was probably
vulnerable, especially from *all* sides. I'm thinking hyenas, coyotes, etc.
Actually, you amy be onto something. It is no accident that the color of one's skin is inversely proportional to the distance one's ancestors lived from the equator.
"From what size predator, would a wooly mammoth have needed to evolve an ability to hide?
Uh, humans and dire wolves and saber-toothed tigers, perhaps. Humans were the most dangerous predator of the wooly mammoth, though.
Did the light furred ones have to contend with affirmative action programs designed to aid the dark furred?
Just looking up predators on mammoths on Google, I found an interesting thing. Apparently, there was a report in Siberia in 1918 of a hunter seeing a wooly mammoth. Sounds far-fetched, but Siberia's very large, and was very sparsely populated in 1918. I suppose it could have happened.
These days, it's unlikely that any such isolated mammoth could still survive, given our satellite mapping. But...you just never know. They've only been extinct, supposedly, for a few thousand years now.
Wouldn't that be a treat?
They had cave lions 3 times the size of African lions back then. Some pretty big bears, too.
That would be the most amazing biological find of the century. That, or sasquatch/yeti.
Wasn't this already known from the frozen carcasses that have been found?
There were lions in Europe into Roman times. In Alexander the Great's time, they used to hunt them. They weren't the huge kind any more, though.
Because we nasty humans killed them off.
GGG Ping?Definitely, because I can use that joke again...
Short-faced Bear, largest that ever lived, I wonder if the mammoth was on the menu?
This link shows a size comparison with grizzly and polar:
Cave Lion (and cave bear, among other things):
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An Inconvenient Truth: about the Ice Age.
Then of course, there's Mr. Snuffleupagus.
By the way, last year I also heard that Siberia once had giant hyenas, and they might have kept people out until they domesticated dogs.
You know, I have alot of trouble with the human predation of mammals stuff, and here's why.
We all know that the American indians hunted the buffalo. And we hear the stories about the indians being very economical and using every piece of the buffalo they could get. These legends have been elevated to an almost holy status.
But estimates tell us that during what they think was the peak, over SIXTY MILLION BUFFALO roamed the plains. And the indians, no matter what they could do, would hardly be able to make the slightest dent in the buffalo herds, no matter what they tried.
The buffalo were not threatened until two things arrived in North America.
Horses and firearms.
So no doubt early man hunted mammoth. But I'm inclinedto think that coming home with a mammoth on the hood of their car was a pretty darn rare event.
There is an exception to every rule.
Wow. Tatooed Lederhosen.
I had never heard of the selknam, so looked them up. The articles on the Inet say that they lived pretty far away from the Equator.
"On that note, I have a friend that has a site on his property in Central Texas that has found ivory utensils, and they are barely calcified. He's also found parts of Spanish armor, and other oddities that don't belong anywhere around there.
Red hair, pink hair, blue hair -- any time you start seeing large, hairy elephants in holes in the ground, it's time to knock off the vodka. ;')
That or maybe Algore's personality.
"the color of one's skin is inversely proportional to the distance...from the equator."
Your right, it is no accident. Vitamin D is created in the oils on the skin and absorbed into the body where it is essential for bone formation, and perhaps antidepressive effects. Women deficient in Vitamin E form norrow pelvic girdles, which make childbirth difficult. A person suffering from Rickets (Vitamin D deficiency) will have thick wrists and a bulging skull. Thus the entusiasm for blond women and graceful wrists. This mutation away from the heavy melanism of the tropics probably made it possible for homo sapiens to migrate into ice age Europe, and sucessfully bear young.
The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes:
Flood, Fire, and Famine
in the History of Civilization
by Richard Firestone,
Allen West, and
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