Scientists have taken cell samples from an extinct baby horse up to 40,000-years-old in a bid to clone the species back to life.
The Russian-South Korean team claim the experiment on the male foal is a “first step” towards their ultimate goal – bringing the extinct woolly mammoth back to life.
Laboratory pictures from Yakutsk – the world’s coldest city – show the search for “living cells” on the light ginger-coloured carcass frozen in permafrost for between 30,000 and 40,000 years.
Close-up images highlight the extraordinary life-like preservation in the planet’s natural freezer.
The foal was discovered in the frozen subsoil of a Siberian crater known as the “Mouth of Hell”.
It was around 20 days old when it died.
After tens of thousands of years of dirt was washed off, the mane and tail were black – with a dark stripe along the spine.
Dr Semyon Grigoriev, leading researcher at Russia’s Mammoth Museum, said of the baby horse: “Fortunately, the animal’s muscle tissues were undamaged and well preserved, so we managed to get samples from this unique find for biotechnology research.”
Cloning specialist Professor Hwang Woo Suk flew in from Seoul to spearhead the search for living DNA material from the foal.
“If we manage to find a cell, then we will do our best to clone the unique animal,” he said.
A mare of a horse species similar to the extinct Lenskaya breed will be used as a surrogate, he told The Siberian Times.
Similarly, when the scientists are ready to clone a mammoth, an elephant will be used as a surrogate.
But the professor said there was far more similarity between the foal and a modern-day horse than between a mammoth and an elephant.
He said: “We have so many live horses. We can get a very good choice of eggs from these female horses.
“And after making the cloned embryo with this baby horse, we can easily transport it to the surrogate mother.
“There are the types of horses that are very close to the ancient one.”
In contrast, there is “a very big distance between the ancient mammoth and the elephant”, he said.
There was “a million years of evolution between them”.