New research has shown that woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) spiralled into a "genomic meltdown" as their numbers dwindled, with detrimental mutations piling up and accelerating the mammoth's journey into extinction.
Experts say this can happen when a once thriving species reaches the brink of extinction, as small populations develop mutations caused by inbreeding.
One of these locations was Wrangel Island, situated in the Atlantic Ocean off the north Siberian coast.
The genome also revealed the island mammoth had specific mutations that likely created an unusual translucent satin coat.
"We would expect that if you got another mammoth from the island and you looked at its genome, that it would also have an excess of bad mutations", Rogers told Live Science.
A little over 4,000 years ago, one of Earth's last surviving populations of woolly mammoths weathered freezing conditions on a small island north of Siberia - and as their time on this planet came to an end, things looked grim for this once-tremendous species.
Researchers have compared the genome of mammoth from 45,000 years ago when the species was still going strong and had yet to be ravaged by hunting and global warming and 4,300 years ago, just a few hundred years before they went extinct.
"It makes sense that the researchers would find an accumulation of deleterious mutations in a population that was very small", said Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was not involved in the new study.
"The results we found were consistent with this theory that had been discussed for decades".
The discovery gives researchers the rare opportunity to see what happens to the genome as a population declines, and supports existing theories of genome deterioration stemming from small population sizes.
"Bad mutations that would normally be weeded out weren't removed from the population because of reduced competition".
The study also offers a warning to conservationists: preserving a small group of isolated animals is not sufficient to stop negative effects of inbreeding and genomic meltdown.
"PLUG AND PLAY" PIRACY Authorities clamp down on Kodi streaming boxes - but are they legal to use in the UK? As such, harmful changes in the mammoth genome that deleted large chunks of DNA, or messed up how genes were read and translated, would have accumulated, according to Rogers.
The woolly mammoth "de-extinction" project took a step forward last month when one of its leading scientists said that within two years they will have created a hybrid embryo that is part woolly mammoth and part Asian elephant. "With only two specimens to look at, these mathematical models were important to show that the differences between the two mammoths are too extreme to be explained by other factors". Do you have a story for The Sun Online news team?
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