Friday, July 07, 2006

Gentlemammoths Prefer Blondes

From BBC (I have been having problems uploading images to blogger, so go there to see artist's conception):
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.

[…] 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.

The scientists said they were unsure why different-coloured mammoths existed.

[…] 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."

For the sake of the contemporary people, as well as for all the other animals, I hope so. It would be dangerous to keep running into invisible mammoths, not to mention the environmental impact of collisions between mammoths who didn’t see one another.

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.

Most likely the other mammoths realized that blond mammoths were having more fun. They all became blonds, and the resulting drop in IQ resulted in their extinction.

(Oh, man, am I going to hear about that one. It’s a joke for a Friday afternoon! Please don’t hurt me!)