Russian scientists mull cloning cave lion after unveiling perfectly preserved cub (VIDEO)
The cave lion cub, which froze between 20,000 or 50,000 years ago, was discovered by local subsoil developers in permafrost on the banks of the Tirekhtyakh River of the Abyisky district of Yakutia in early autumn. Thawing permafrost revealed the animal, researchers at the Academy of Science of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) said as they presented the find to the public last week.
The cub was around one and a half to two months old when it died, the biologists said. Its sex and precise age will be established during further research, which may take several years, they added. Two intact cave lion cubs discovered in Yakutia made headlines in 2015, but the newly-found animal is “even better preserved,” Albert Protopopov, who heads the Department of Study of Mammoth Fauna at the Academy, said.
According to Protopopov, the uniquely preserved condition of the cub may even see the cave lion species brought back to life. “Cloning via classical technology when the nucleus of a living cell is implanted in an egg is impossible. But nowadays serious work is being undertaken in terms of reconstructing the DNA and one may try to incorporate the restored DNA of the cave lion into the DNA of the modern lion,” he said.
“Since the cave lions are very close relatives of modern African lions, the possibility of their revival is much higher than that of the mammoth, which has no relatives closer than that of the Indian elephant,” Protopopov added as cited by Tass.
The cave lion lived in the Late Pleistocene era, the same period as the wooly mammoth, and went extinct around 10,000 years ago. The predator was slightly larger than the modern lion, lacking a mane and a tassel at the end of the tail.
Scientists from the Mammoth Museum of the North-Eastern Federal University together with their South Korean colleagues are now working to rebuild the DNA structure from a well-preserved mammoth skin found in Yakutia in 2015 with hopes of cloning the animal in the future.