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article imageArtificial blood for humans developed from pre-historic mammoths

By Nancy Houser     Sep 15, 2011 in Health
Blood from pre-historic woolly mammoths is now helping scientists advance modern medical procedures. New artificial blood for humans will be based on the reduction of each patient's body temperature.
In their migration from Africa and Asia to the colder regions of Eurasia over 1.2 million years ago, woolly mammoths had adapted by growing thickened fur that became a woolly, developing smaller ears to conserve heat, and maybe changing their DNA. At least according to the researchers Dr. Chien Ho and his colleagues.
According to today’s article in Science Daily, the research team had previously done studies on the woolly mammoths, finding that “a blood protein (hemoglobin) that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body of the woolly mammoth has mutations in its DNA that make it different from that of its cousin, the Asian elephant.”
Scientists are now able to develop new blood products in order to help modern medical procedures, which involve reducing the patient’s body temperature. Appearing in ACS’ journal “Biochemistry,” Chien Ho and his colleagues are turning to the exact mutations that helped the mammoths survive over many years.
What made this study so unique was that a woolly mammoth blood sample was unavailable. To complete the study, the researchers developed a hemoglobin blood protein in the laboratory from “fragmented DNA sequences” from three Siberian mammoths that had died 25,000 to 43,000 years ago.
Chien Ho and his research colleagues were unable to use human hemoglobin or of Asian elephants because protein from the woolly mammoth was less sensitive to temperature changes. This is important because even in the cold, the mammoth’s protein was still able to unload oxygen to tissues in the cold. That of humans and the Asian elephant cannot.
In the io9 article, “How 43,000-Year-Old Wooly Mammoth Could One Day Save Your Life, ” by Robert T. Gonzalez, heart and brain surgeries were discussed as hypothermia-dependent procedures. This is a process where “doctors often have to lower their patient’s temperatures during surgery.” As Chien Ho’s research studies show, this is a problem, as human blood does not transport oxygen as well in cold temperatures.
Researcher insights believe that this ability to adjust to the cold may be due to two or more mutations in the wooly mammoth hemoglobin gene. Overall, the study may be leading to the “design of new artificial blood products or use in hypothermia induced during heart and brain surgeries.”
American Chemical Society (2011, September 14). Woolly mammoth's secrets for shrugging off cold points toward new artificial blood for humans. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 15, 2011, from
Journal Reference
Yue Yuan, Tong-Jian Shen, Priyamvada Gupta, Nancy T. Ho, Virgil Simplaceanu, Tsuey Chyi S. Tam, Michael Hofreiter, Alan Cooper, Kevin L. Campbell, Chien Ho. A Biochemical–Biophysical Study of Hemoglobins from Woolly Mammoth, Asian Elephant, and Humans.Biochemistry, 2011; 50 (34): 7350 DOI: 10.1021/bi200777j
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