Scientists have unearthed carcasses of ancient cave lion cubs, frozen in Siberia’s permafrost for 12,000 years, that may contain the world’s oldest breast milk.
Daily Star reports:
The prehistoric cats, frozen in time for at least 12,000 years, contain an “opaque” white fluid, thought to be milk from their mother.
One cub will be subject to an autopsy, the other preserved for future scientific research, to find out how the lions came to be on the eastern extremes of Russia.
“The cubs were dug last year from their icy grave complete with all their body parts: fur, ears, soft tissue and even whiskers”, said Dr Albert Protopopov, head of the mammoth fauna studies department of the Yakutian Academy of Sciences.
The cubs are to be cloned by guru Hwang Woo-suk from South Korea
Skin and muscle tissue was extracted from the ancient creature’s remains, aiming to find living cells, which could trigger research aiming to bring the extinct cave lions back to life.
A sudden summer rise – then fall – in the level of the Uyandina River led to cracks appearing and local worker Yakov Androsov spotted an ice lens with the lion cubs inside.
Dr Protopopov said: “Comparing with modern lion cubs, we think that these two were very small, maybe a week or two old.
“The eyes were not quite open, they have baby teeth and not all had appeared.”
He thinks they may have perished after the lioness hid her cubs in a cave to protect them from hungry lions.
Cave lions lived during Middle and Late Pleistocene times on the Eurasian continent, from the British Isles to Chukotka in the extreme east of Russia, and they also roamed Alaska and northwestern Canada.
Research on the two cubs could help explain why the species died out, since they had few predators, were smaller than herbivores, and were not prone to getting bogged down in swamps.
The find comes after a cave dog was found in Siberia, with similar cloning plans intended for it.
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