Washington, April 12 : Scientists have performed a CT scan on the frozen body of a 37,000-year-old baby woolly mammoth discovered last year in Arctic Russia, providing a detailed internal look at the prehistoric mammal.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the remarkably preserved mammoth calf is named Lyuba after the wife of the hunter who found the ancient carcass in the remote Yamalo-Nenetsk region in May 2007.
The body was preserved because of the oxygen-deprived environment, which prevented decay and kept it intact save for only its tail and shaggy coat.
Estimated to be just three to four months old when it died, the female has now been returned to Russia from Japan after undergoing computer tomography (CT) scans.
The Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo produced 3-D images of Lyuba's innards, including her heart, liver, and other organs.
"Now we can see all the internal organs in their natural position inside the body," said study team member Alexei Tikhonov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Science's Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg.
"This is really the first case where we can see the internal structure of an extinct animal," he added.
According to Tikhonov, the CT scans showed healthy fat tissues and no signs of damage to the skeleton, indicating that the 110-pound (50-kilogram) calf was in good shape when it died.
As for how the mammoth died, it's thought that the Ice Age mammal met its end suddenly, when it drowned in a river or a lake, as its trunk, mouth, and digestive tract contained large amounts of mud.
"The last movements of the trunk and its last breathing was bringing a lot of silt inside," said Tikhonov.
The next stage of the study will involve analysis of tissue and bone samples based at the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg.
These biopsies should provide researchers a wealth of information, according to Tikhonov.
"As well as giving insights into the structure of mammoth organs, glands, and muscles, prehistoric viruses may be preserved within these tissues," he said.
"We now have probably the first chance to take fragments of DNA from ancient viruses from inside an animal," Tikhonov added.
Scientists are also keen to study the contents of the mammoth's intestines, "because inside, there will be the pollen and spores of plants, and so then we can reconstruct the landscapes of this time," said Tikhonov.
In addition, labs in the United States, Canada, and Russia are set to work on DNA samples from the fossil in a bid to decode the complete genome of mammoths.
"Techniques developed during this genetic research could one day help in bringing extinct species back from the dead," Tikhonov suggested.