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Siberia: 18,000-year-old frozen 'dog' stumps scientists (bbc.com)
291 points by neom 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments

Calling it "Dogor" as both meaning Friend in a local language and a play on "dog or wolf" is the kind of word play humor we deserve.

Somehow reminded me of Google's StatusOr C++ type :)

That seems like a missed opportunity for a "ErrOr" pun.

ErrOr<string> even makes more sense than StatusOr<string>!

Ha! :) Nice...

Made me think of Trogdor - "Trog-o-dor"

Interview with one of the professors in evolutionary genetics involved:

> Dalén was working in Russia in 2018 when he got a call that local tusk hunters — people searching for mammoth tusk — had found the specimen near Yakutsk in eastern Siberia.

* https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/scientists-don-t-know-i...

* Transcript: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-wednesday...

I have to say this is the most impressive preserved animal I've ever seen. Looks like it died a few days ago at best.

You might be on to something, sir...

> Radiocarbon dating was able to determine the age of the puppy when it died and how long it has been frozen.

I wonder what preservation will be from this point out. I'm sure they'll take tons of photos, videos and fur samples they'll preserve, but can they keep this specimen in tact? Are there ways to preserve it with the fur and whiskers and maybe even keep it on display as it is, or will it need to be taxidermeried?

Edit: also those teeth! Do any other types of wolves/dogs have that crazy pattern?

What blows me away is that are able to peel his lips back to display the teeth. I don't understand how 18K year old flesh could still be pliable.

Even modern puppies have those small multiple ridges on their teeth. It's one of the most reliable indicators of a dogs age, as they tend to disappear as the dogs mature.

I don't know what's going to happen with this particular find but if you click through to the pages of various frozen mammoths here


you'll see everything from 'dunked in preservative and exhibited' to 'excavated as a giant chunk of permafrost and stashed in an ice cave'. The former seems more typical. Going all out, there's also this - a special facility to keep the specimen cold and, uh, moist it seems?


Typical carnivore incisors I think - check out lions, tigers and other cats as well as dogs. Much, much sharper than ours, ideal for scraping meat off bone. Pre-molars are much more complex and meat specialised than ours too.

I'm sure Dr Gunther von Hagens would be interested in preserving this, if they didn't have any other ideas.

Plastination is the process of replacing liquids and fats in the body by plastics, and IIRC if you use silicone it even feels soft and pliable (my friend touched one of the exhibits)

The teeth don't look particularly strange to me. Some modern dogs have teeth that look the same. Just duckduckgo "dog teeth" images.

Once they do tests wouldn’t best option be to refreeze? What a display case too!

Reminds me of that forbidden experiment in Siberian Soviet Russia concerning breeding. What they were trying to do is breed a dog based on wolves. All they were doing to achieve that, was choosing the most friendliest wolves. Lo and behold, after a few generations they succeeded already. Selective breeding is a form of genetic modification in itself. Which is a reason to not be (at least pur sang) against gentech / genetic modification. Knowingly or not, we've already been doing it for ages.

[EDIT]Foxes indeed; not wolves.[/EDIT]

I know of the tame silver fox experiment[0] (not wolf), and it wasn't forbidden. Are you referring to a different one?

[0] http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160912-a-soviet-scientist-c...

My bad, it was a fox experiment, indeed.

Regarding "banned", the article mentions:

> The study of genetics had been essentially banned in the USSR, as the country's dictator Joseph Stalin sought to discredit the genetic principles set out by Gregor Mendel. Stalin's death in 1953 gave scientists more freedom, but in the early years Belyaev nevertheless worked under the cover that he was breeding foxes to make better fur coats.

Also, it mentions 50 generations:

> "The fox farm experiment was crucial, in that it told us that domestication can happen relatively quickly in the right circumstances," he says. "The fact that in fifty generations, they were wagging their tails and barking, this is really incredible."

Even more: Stalin hated generic scientists so much that named a town after one of them: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michurinsk

Michurin's work was appropriated by the antiscientific ideology of Lysenkoism which Stalin favored. Also there are lots of places named after Michurin, for example there are multiple neighborhoods named "Michurin's gardens" in the city I'm from.

They 'culled' (which means killed) the animals that were not tame enough. And continued doing it for 40 years, it seems.

this is a kind of experiment I would have prohibited totally.

"... Only those foxes that showed tolerance for the nearness of people were selected and bred to produce the next generation, while fearful or aggressive animals were culled. ..."


Not exactly. They bred an aggressive population alongside the tame one, and it's now 60 years: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/08/fox-dogs-...

"Researchers have bred more than 40 generations of friendly and aggressive foxes."

I read a really interesting article mainly about the aggressive ones, but I just spent a few minutes looking for it unsuccessfully.

Hiding the research as breeding 'better' foxes for fur is fine with you? That's what those culled have been used for.

Now we can discuss whether such an approach is immoral on its own, but we should probably get off our high modern horses and judge things from perspective of given era. And breeding animals for fur was totally acceptable. In fact, it still is in all countries on earth and for some time will be.

Btw are you vegan to have at least some grounds to claim any moral superiority to that research?

So.. I have to say, I think you are right.

I do eat meat. And I understand where it comes from.

I should not be judging hunters, live stock growers, or breeders culling unsuccessful breeds, or wale hunters...

I guess part of me was thinking why could not they just relocate the other foxes like 500 miles away and let them live. Russia (even without USSR) still has like 11 time zones of land. It is enormous.

Perhaps, for a moment, I assumed that I had a know-how and was asked to be a 'moral authority', 'ethics luminary' and a re-born principles activist (especially when it affects others, but not me)

I am probably not the only one who fell into that mind set, even momentarily.

But @saya-jin you are right,

there is nothing that indicated that animals were tortured, and I should not have judged how they were 'culled'.

Thank you for mentioning that. I got part of this story from a Dutch book "De meeste mensen deugen" by Rutger Bergman.

> this is a kind of experiment I would have prohibited totally.

You mean it'd be prohibited or that you'd prohibit it?

What we do hourly to the population of chicken and cow is much more violent and genocidal than the culling you mention. It serves no scientific purpose either; only because 1) we've grown accustomed to eating so much meat 2) there are so many humans on Earth.

Makes me wonder if we could do the same with a tiger.

IIRC (from some documentary on the subject) canids are somewhat unique in their “genetic plasticity” (I don’t recall the precise term).

Dogs have 76 chromosomes whereas tigers (and most other cats) have only 38. That makes it far easier for breeders to target specific characteristics in dogs.

Gene drives, allowing for non mendellian breeding, will revolutionize this.

Wow TIL, very cool.

> pur sang

\ (ˈ)pu̇(ə)r¦säⁿ\

: being such beyond a doubt or to the utmost degree

Etymology: French pur-sang thoroughbred animal, from pur pure + sang blood, from Latin sanguis

(from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pur%20sang )

The most interesting thing about that experiment IMO is that as the foxes got friendlier towards humans, they looked more like puppies even as adults. If I remember correctly this is because the trait of trusting strangers is associated with being infantile, so when selectively breeding for that trait you get the puppy like looks too. So not only are they nicer, they're also cuter.

I wonder if it got more difficult to kill them for the furs when they got cuter, more friendly and loving.

Yes...naturally breed them and let genes modify in accordance of naturality. It is intellectually dishonest to compare that with an educated guessing game of modifying select genes and hoping it turns out OK. The very obvious difference being humans selected which genes to modify with gene editing while selective breeding allowed the reproductive process to select which combination of genes are passed and which are not.

The obvious ethical objection is that human error can happen with gene editing and is intolerable while selective breeding allows for the reproductive system to make errors which are not a responsibility of man but of nature.

Ethical slippery sloping to justify ends sucks!

> The obvious ethical objection is that human error can happen with gene editing and is intolerable while selective breeding allows for the reproductive system to make errors which are not a responsibility of man but of nature.

It seems like you're saying, either way you can get errors, but if you do it through breeding you can claim it wasn't your fault because, really, Nature did it.

I can't tell if you're serious or not.

I don't know how accurate it is, but I remember reading that (the first time was a very long time ago) some varieties of plants/crops were developed through literally bombarding them with radiation and then breeding the mutants that were improved, and the results are not considered to be GMOs, because nobody was manipulating specific genes. They were just basically firing a shotgun at them.


EDIT: you may be thinking of this article specifically http://www.ediblegeography.com/strange-and-beautiful-seeds-f...

> For example, a mutagenic Ruby Red grapefruit grown without the use of pesticides can be labeled as organic and thus be sold for a premium, despite the fact that organic foods by definition cannot be genetically modified.

I can accept that. Living things have a natural process of eliminating incompatible variants. I think of it as a coder binary patching bugs without understanding how the patched piece affects every other variable essentially creating more problems as opposed to readinf the code and rebuilding the app after understanding it slowly and properly. What is the rush??

I honestly think scientists and science enthusiasts do not understand the most basic principle of justice: you cannot wrong even one innocent person evem if it means saving the entire planet as a whole! If you don't belive that please stay away from any profession that requires ethical decision making.

There are professions that don't require ethical decision making? Please list three.

(I work for the government, and I'm here to help...)

Ethical decision making and being in a position where being unethical can easily cause tragedies and jail time for you is different. I specifically meant right and wrong. Many jobs are simple enough to where you can follow the law and company guidelines and be ok.

Good example: truck driver, they have a ton of rules for everything due to how easily a simple mishap like not sleeping enough can get a person killed. They don't need to know much (if any) about ethics they just need to follow the law and rules.

Scientists,archaeologists,politicians and other professions involve new concepts and discoveries for which existing law and rules do not have coverage and as such require the professionals to know and excercise ethics in a consistent and acceptable way.

After that truck driver hit Tracy Morgan, it was reported that Wal-Mart made a new rule requiring drivers to live within 250 miles of where they go to work. Guess the rules weren't perfect.

So which category does police officer fit in? They sure have a ton of rules and they shouldn't be forging new laws, right?

The rules may not be perfect but they can adopt to imperfections. Practitioners are not expected to do things not required by law.

Police officers and soldiers are interesting in that they are expected to behave ethically even for things that there is no specific rule for. Police are much more lenient on their own so in reality inappropriate or unethical behavior has no consequence with soldiers it depends, do something inhumane to a POW, maybe nobody cares, associate with criminals and cheat(sexually) with other soldiers partners then even if there is no rule you might get discharged 'dishonorably' (they are expected to be honorable which often implies ethics). Cops might also run into situations where what is happening is legal but inaction might reasonably result in harm, so I think the ethical thing is to break the law and face consequences. They might also see something illegal (like other cops' crimes) and it might be legal to overlook that but unethical still. The key here is they are both given much power and leeway,they are expected to behave in a way that reflects the trust which includes ethical and honorable behavior.

In your truck driver scenario, the truck driver either did kr did not break the rules. Was it unethical if he lived far away? For him, no. For management that perhaps knowing the risks allowed the practice then they might have been unethical.

Require legally or require ethically, Mr TLA?

Can there be an ethical requirement to be ethical? If you're not ethical, aren't ethical requirements irrelevant?

I am serious and that is what I am saying. Nature has plenty of errors,the benefits of gene editing do not justify even one person being harmed as a result if human added error. If selective human breeding is unethical (eugenics) then so is selective human gene editing!

Who said anything about human gene editing? We're talking about animals and plants.

> I am serious and that is what I am saying.

I think we must not be on the same page, still. You said: "The obvious ethical objection is that human error can happen with gene editing and is intolerable while selective breeding allows for the reproductive system to make errors which are not a responsibility of man but of nature." That sounds like you're saying that, if I genetically modify a cow for more milk production and it turns out that the milk gives you cancer, then of course I am to blame; but if I instead breed cows for more milk production and get exactly the same result, then it not's me at fault but Nature. Even though I'm the one who put a new product in stores without sufficient testing that made people sick, I'm not to blame at all in the second case.

Is that really what you're saying?

It is more intolerable with humans but animals should't be subject of either (animal cruelty).

Yes, that is what I am saying. In your example, of course if there were tests you could have done to prevent the outcome you're at fault. But that aside, the outcome is the same but human editing of a gene means you are causing a specific change in a complicated code bypassing natural adaptations and rejections that might be needed for a trait to be amplified. So you're responsible for the outcome even if there was no testing you could have done to ensure it won't cause cancer on some consumers. You are responsible for any deviations caused by your editing,good or bad. With selective breeding you are forcing breeding between animals that would have bred anyways. It is not impossible for the natural course of things to force breeding between those same pairs of animals. The outcome is the same but since you did not do something that could not have happened anyways in the natural course of things you are not responsible for all deviations.

What I meant though was more like deformations and other flaws that would be cruel to the animal. For example selective breeding of dogs has resulted in some breeds where the brees itself is illegal. Some breeds have skulls that become torturesome and painful once the brain grows to a full size. These breeds would die off if it were not for humans that insist on breeding them.

Mistakes are inevitable and az such the question of "is even one mistake acceptable?" must be asked to which I say no it is not. Trial and error are not acceptable because one error is not acceptable. Ends don't justify means.

Maybe someday computing will be powerful enough to model how editing of genetic material will affect the grown animal (100% accounting of unintended consequences).

> Trial and error are not acceptable because one error is not acceptable

Trial and error is exactly what evolution is. I'm struggling to understand your argument - is it that evolution, once it makes a mistake, culls that line? Whereas when humans make a mistake (based on your dog breed example), they continue it?

Evolution continues its trial and error even after mistakes are made. There's no central database that limits this -- it continues to happen, again and again, with the same mutations.

We're not discussing evolution. You're changing the subject.

As human beings we recognize our ability to discern right from from wrong, just from unjust,cruel from humane and correct from incorrect. Knowing there is a risk of something incorrect that will result in an unjust,cruel and inhumane outcome, if you proceed with that action you are considered unethical. If the same outcome happens as a result of nature, other humans or by choice of the person/animal then it was not your decision or responsibility. The fact that other actors or nature might cause the same outcome does not absolve you of the decisions you make right?

I disagree that humans have an ability to differentiate right from wrong in any universal sense.

> Knowing there is a risk of something incorrect that will result in an unjust,cruel and inhumane outcome, if you proceed with that action you are considered unethical.

I also disagree here. Unethical negligence is determined by a calculated risk of the bad outcome. There is a risk of bad outcomes every time a jury takes a criminal case, but that it clearly not an unethical action.

I'm generally not sure what your point is. We take calculated risks that could end up with something bad happening -- think driverless cars -- but there is a lot of variance between individuals' line between "acceptable risk" and "unacceptable risk". And sometimes the ends do justify the means, depending on your opinion on the Trolley Problem.

You seem to be under the impression that animal breeding--artificial selection--does not involve trial and error?

Forced eugenics is obviously unethical but whats so bad about selective breeding in general as long as your going for intelligence, athleticism, musicality etc. and not country of origin.

The traits are irrelevant, you shouldn't group people by traits and say this group should never exist. Ethics aside too many unintended consequences.

If you breed for muscularity and athleticism everyone is physically fit but you no longer have smart people that spend most of their time studying. Too much intellect and you suddenly are in shortage of people that spend most of their time getting fit like firefighters and soldiers.

Ethically, there is this concept of self determination for humans, that our existence especially with flaws is what gives us individual traits. Previous generations should not amplify any trait on purpose because that implies we are bread for a purpose. We are not purpose built machines or animals, we get to decide what purpose suits us best which is individual self determination.

There is a difference though between a person finding a mate because they find a feature attractive (reproductive selection) and selecting a mate because that mate will amplify that feature in their offspring.

Did they not also breed an aggressive line as well? Anyone know what happened to them?

We have been breeding housecats for 3,000 years and they arent as friendly as dogs or foxes yet.

I wonder why Homo Erectuses and especially Neanderthals never domesticated wolves. They co-existed with wolves for hundreds of thousands of years and were social hominids that were, judging by their brain size, technology and culture, quite intelligent.

EDIT: apparently there's some evidence of wolf domestication stretching back hundreds of thousands of years.

Isn't this dangerous in terms of virus and bacteria re-activation?

It would have to be a zoonotic pathogen and those tend to be rare.

Why? The thing could just have trapped human hostile pathogens in its fur, etc.

Viruses and bacteria tend to be super specialized for their hosts temperature, humidity, and cellular ranges and die soon after being abandoned into the cold uncaring world. Except for when they're in bio-films. Then, recent research suggests, they can live for much longer.

Fungal spores, however, can live forever even in deep space.

Valley fever, caused by Coccidioides immitis is a danger to Archeologists (and ATV enthusiasts) as it lives in the soil and if its spores are breathed in it can cause some symptoms.

So, there's some danger, but not much. And the people doing this work will likely know the details.

They should check for entombed alien spacecraft nearby just in case it's actually a shape-shifting Thing.

We've probably already caught everything that can be caught from dogs a long time ago.

You dont think that our immunities may have evolved along with the evolution of the dog bacteria?

Evolution doesn't just mean improvements, it also means dropping that's that dont appear to be useful anymore. If a 20k year old bacteria suddenly starts showing up and we're no longer equipped to deal with them like we used to be...

The thing is that virus and bacteria don't work magically to harm us. They have to evolve too. Its unlikely that we will awaken anything harmful to us because they simply never evolved the mechanisms to harm us.

There are some exceptions but apparently they're rare.

I think there was an episode of 99% Invisible with a qualified person explaining all this instead of some rando on the internet (me) but I can't find it =(

Hopefully someone else can elaborate

"The thing is that virus and bacteria don't work magically to harm us. They have to evolve too"

I thought it was an "everybody knows" thing that viruses and bacteria generally coevolve with hosts, so they become less virulent over time. It's when something has just become infectious that it's most likely to decimate (or worse) the population it's just arrived in.

Yeah that's also true. But it still has to evolve that infection mechanism. A virus from so long ago and from a different animal is unlikely to have the very specific mechanisms to infect us.

Penicillin should be enough to deal with 20k year old bacteria.

It would be amazing to clone it. I wonder if the DNA is preserved well enough to do that.

About 3-4 years ago there was a study showing that the half-life of DNA was much shorter... like around 500 years.


However, I've always wondered if it would be possible to reassemble the whole DNA via aligning overlapping segments by indexing MASSIVE amounts of DNA.

IT would be VERY expensive to do now with today's tech but might be posssible in 10-20 years.

It should be, but it might not work with contemporary RNA in host cells for cloning.

They have dozens of Neanderthal DNA going back to 70K years. (They stopped being a distinct sub-species 30K years ago) In humans the skull next to the ear are good place to find intact DNA.

It is insane how well preserved these remains are

There are apparently multiple occasions when preserved mammoth flesh from the ice age was eaten: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/57100/time-250000-year-o...

When in 1901 Soviet researchers discovered woolly mammoth on the banks of Berezovka River in Siberia, they could smell its carcass and supposedly scavengers had been feeding on thousands of years old meat![1]


Huh? the Soviet Union did not exist in 1901.

Thank you, my bad. They were Russian scientists from St. Petersburg.

That would be some dry aged steak.

Has no-one seen The Thing?

Why are they even allowing it to exist?

Burn it.

Doesn't look a day over 10,000.

Maybe the dog waited at the same spot everyday of his life for his owner to return until it finally died from the cold.

I realize this is a well known reference, but for anybody that wants to cry today:


That part of that episode is actually a reference itself, to Hachiko https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachik%C5%8D

Siberia was warmer 18,000 years ago.

This is clearly the unfound dog from the movie "Encino Man".

I wonder if that smells bad?

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