Scientists Checking 44,000-Year-Old Frozen Wolf for Ancient Viruses

A 44,000-year-old wolf was discovered in Yakutia, eastern Russia, in 2021. The wolf, which is remarkably well-preserved with its teeth, fur, and some organs intact, is currently being studied by researchers at North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, Russia. The wolf, believed to be an extinct species, is the only complete adult Pleistocene wolf ever found, making it a unique find in the scientific community.

Researchers are investigating the wolf’s stomach for signs of its last meal and ancient microbes. The wolf’s genome will be studied to reveal its place in the canine family tree. Initial analysis suggests that the wolf was an adult male and likely hunted in a flat, cold environment full of mammoths, wooly rhinoceroses, extinct horses, bison, and reindeer. Remains of some of these animals might still be found in the wolf’s gut.

Studying the ancient microbes in the wolf’s gut could help researchers understand their functions and whether the wolf had parasites. If any of the microorganisms are unknown to science, they could play a role in the development of future medicines. This discovery is part of a larger collaboration to study other ancient animals, including fossil hares, a horse, and a bear.

As global temperatures rise, more ancient creatures like this are re-emerging from the world’s permafrost. However, the thawing of permafrost also poses a risk, as it can release harmful pathogens like anthrax, as seen in a 2016 outbreak in Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula. Researchers fear that other pathogens may slumber in the tundra, with the thaw of a warming world slowly creeping toward them. Last year, a 48,000-year-old virus was revived from the Siberian permafrost, raising concerns about the potential risks of ancient viruses and bacteria. The study of the Yakutia wolf’s gut could help researchers better understand the microbes hiding inside permafrost creatures.

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