News broke yesterday that a beautifully preserved wooly mammoth had been discovered by Russian scientists in Siberia. The research team quickly got ahead of itself, by claiming that the mammoth remains contained actual living cells, which in turn got the media all excited about the possibility of cloning the extinct beast.
Not surprisingly, the scientists have gone back and clarified their position — forcing the media to do the same.
Various publications started to declare, "Siberian Mammoth remains found to contain 'live cells'", including the BBC. Cloning rumors started to spread, mostly on account of overly speculative AP and Reuters stories.
Once the news started making the rounds, the Russian research team quickly clarified its position, stating that it was all based on "a misunderstanding" and that it would likely take months to determine if they had found living cells or not.
The situation regressed even further when Aleksandr Agadzhanyan from the Russian Academy of Science declared that it was highly unlikely that living cells will be found in the remains, telling a Russian news agency that "The structure and the nucleus – in some special conditions of deep freezing – can be preserved, but a living thing means constant and stable exchange with outside the environment."
Worse, it was later revealed that there's a possible connection between the research team and controversial Korean scientist and cloning enthusiast Hwang Woo-Suk who has expressed potential interest in the findings.
Subsequently, news sites were careful to inject the word "may" into their headlines to ensure that no bold claims were being conveyed. The BBC had to adjust their piece, noting "This story has been amended to make clear scientists are doubtful they will find live cells."
Anyway, regardless of the initial misunderstanding, the finding is really quite extraordinary. The remains contained mammoth hair, soft tissues, and bone marrow. The mammoth was discovered by Semyon Grigoreyv and his team at a depth of 328 feet. Further research and tests will be conducted on the remains to prove one way or another if the remains do in fact contain live cells.
Images via RU.