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Woolly mammoth focus of groundbreaking CFDC exhibit

Morden Times

A recreation of a woolly mammoth as featured in a B.C. Museum

A recreation of a woolly mammoth as featured in a B.C. Museum

A new exhibit unveiled at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden might make one think of the premise of the Jurassic Park movies.

There is some genuine groundbreaking science however behind the exhibit officially opening to the public Monday (December 3).

The display was touted as the world’s first public exhibition of a woolly mammoth blood component, and directors were excited to have a new display that can stir the imagination as well as explain and promote the science of it.

“We are thrilled to be able to be at the forefront of paleo-biology with this one-of-a-kind display,” said CFDC acting executive director Peter Cantelon.

“If you were to go back in time with a syringe, remove mammoth blood and separate out the hemoglobin, this is exactly what you would have,” he explained. “The last time a human being has been this close to mammoth blood was more than 10,000 years ago when they were being hunted by paleolithic peoples.”

The small vial of deep red mammoth hemoglobin along with a portion of mammoth tusk recovered from Grunthal, Manitoba are the latest additions to the CFDC collection.

And it is the CFDC’s first Ice Age exhibit, allowing people a glimpse of an ancient creature which became extinct over 10,000 years ago.

The exhibit was made possible thanks to a donation of the hemoglobin from Winnipeg’s Kevin Campbell, a University of Manitoba professor of environmental and evolutionary physiology who grew up in Morden and also vice-president of the board for the CFDC.

Campbell’s research was instrumental in the resurrection of the hemoglobin.

Recent advances in biotechnology enabled him to not only re-create functional genes from extinct animals but also to faithfully assemble and study the proteins the genes once encoded.

By doing so, they were able to determine some remarkable ‘living’ characteristics of woolly mammoths.

“For instance, resurrecting this red blood cell protein hemoglobin from a woolly mammoth has shown that the normally temperature sensitive protein evolved novel adaptations that, unlike living (tropical) elephants, enabled it to do its job of delivering oxygen to body tissues in the cold conditions these beasts faced,” explained Campbell.

“Prior to these new techniques, we had no way to deduce, let alone test for, these kinds of attributes from fossilized remains.

“Being able to re-create and study authentic genetic material from extinct species is a whole new frontier in paleo-biology and research into ancient life.”

Campbell’s research was the subject of a recent article featured in Scientific American magazine, and his work has also been featured in other publications including the New York Times, BBC Nature, London Daily Mail and Toronto Star.

For more information about the CFDC, visit the website at or call 204 822 3406.


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