Biologists from Tomsk University (Tomsk, Russia) have identified a surviving population of elk in Western Siberia whose DNA contains unique genetic features. This discovery suggests that Siberia is a unique genetic reserve, and opens up the possibility of investigating their origins and population movement over tens of thousands of years.
The unique type of elk was found in the south-eastern part of Western Siberia. Licenced hunters in the Tomsk Region were issued with special kits to collect DNA. The samples obtained were analysed and zoologists compared them with data from the international DNA database GenBank, discovering that they were looking at genetic sequences that had never before been studied. This formed the basis of their conclusion that there is a distinct haplogroup of Western Siberian elk, that all share a similar DNA structure.
Genetic sequences similar to those found in the elk were widespread among animals that lived 30,000-40,000 years ago, but which vanished with the last ice age around 18,000-24,000 years ago. The discovery by Tomsk biologists suggests that they survived – in some populations.
Analysis was carried out on a DNA fragment that is not subject to recombination, so for the entire period of their existance, from ancient elk to those we see today, this DNA has only experienced mutation-based changes, each of which would take around 3,000 years to express themselves.
The zoologists’ next step will be to identify consistent patterns between the genotype and appearance of this new type of elk.
‘Western Siberia remains largely unstudied from the molecular point of view,’ Olga Nemoikina from the Biological Institute at Tomsk University said. ‘This discovery confirms that there is an area that is a kind of repository, that there is a place in the south of our region, with the right environment. That suggests that other forest inhabitants could also display unique DNA features.’
This discovery is further confirmation of the unique role that Western Siberia played as a kind of refuge for ancient animals, which helped a number of forest fauna species survive the period of global cooling.
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Tomsk State University (TSU) was founded in 1878. It is located in Tomsk, a unique Russian city with a half-million population, whose life is built around seven major universities, hundreds of innovative enterprises, and a variety of technology parks. TSU is the center of this city – Siberia’s research capital.
As a universal institution of higher education, TSU offers students and researchers over 200 areas of specialization and study ranging from opera through robotics to meteorology and space technology. At TSU, traditionally strong schools such as the schools of law, linguistics and management (including MBA) are combined with TSU’s areas of particular research excellence including research into new materials, e. g. for medicine and space technology, twin studies, multi-dimentional swamp studies (TSU is situated on the edge of the Vasyugan Swamp, the world’s biggest swamp), and botanical studies (TSU’s botanic garden is one of the biggest and oldest botanic gardens in Russia).
The TSU campus is home to over 20,000 students including 1,000 students from other countries. TSU attracts many students from Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Mongolia and China. However, if you go the university’s 100-year-old library, you will also see students from Western Europe, e. g. Germany and the UK, searching information for their Master’s program in the library’s collection, which includes about 4 million catalogued items.