Cave Lion Cub Spartak Is ... A Girl

Фото: Алексей Михайлов
Фото: Алексей Михайлов

On September 19, at the IV Russian Geographical Society Festival, paleontologists talked about the sensational discoveries made while studying the cave lion cubs Boris and Spartak. Mummified animal bodies were discovered in Yakutia in 2017–2018. Boris had spent 43 thousand years in permafrost, and Spartak - 28 thousand years. Until September 22, they are exhibited in the Zaryadye park at the Russian Geographical Society Festival.

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Фото: Алексей Михайлов
Фото: Алексей Михайлов

After the discovery of the mummies, the lion cubs were given male names, but now one of the animals will have to be renamed. At a meeting with reporters at the Russian Geographical Society Festival, employees of the Sakha Academy of Sciences (Yakutia) reported that the other day they had  received new tomographic scan data. It allowed to confirm the assumption that one of the fossil animals is actually female.

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Фото: Алексей Михайлов
Фото: Алексей Михайлов

“First, the lion cubs were named Boris and Spartak after their discoverers”, said Valery Plotnikov, candidate of Biological Sciences, senior researcher at the Mammoth Fauna Research Department of the Sakha Academy of Sciences (Yakutia). “However, now we have received new research data from Japan that suggests that Spartak is a girl. Professor of paleontology and medicine, director of the Institute for High-Dimensional Medical Imaging at the Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo, Naoki Suzuki, took data from tomographic studies done on the cubs, which we had conducted in Yakutsk, brought  them to his laboratory in Japan, and there, on the state-of-the-art equipment, determined the sex of Spartacus by internal sexual characteristics. Now we are trying to figure out what to call the lion cub. Probably the name could be Spartakiada".

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Исследования пещерного львенка Бориса. Фото предоставлено Академией наук Республики Саха (Якутия)
Исследования пещерного львенка Бориса. Фото предоставлено Академией наук Республики Саха (Якутия)

Valery Plotnikov noted that the determination of Spartak `s sex was made possible due to the fact that the lion cub had well preserved internal organs. “With the help of CT scan, we examined the internal organs of the animals. Boris`s are very flattened, it’s difficult to figure out what’s where. But Spartak’s organs were  preserved in their original form. Perhaps in the future we can extract the contents of Spartak’s stomach to determine the mother’s diet, if there is milk left", said the scientist.

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Фото: Алексей Михайлов
Фото: Алексей Михайлов

The lion studies are ongoing. In Moscow, additional cell samples were taken from Boris and Spartak. To do this, the lion cubs were taken away from Zaryadye for one night, but then brought back.

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Фото: Алексей Михайлов
Фото: Алексей Михайлов

The study of lion cubs`cells will help to understand whether it is possible to clone them or revive the species using other modern scientific methods. The fact that this is theoretically possible is confirmed by the research of the mammoth Yuka, which, by the way, is also demonstrated at the RGS Festival.

He died about 34 thousand years ago and was discovered in Yakutia in 2010. A number of experts believe that to date, of all the found remains of mammoths, Yuka has been preserved best of all. In particular, a brain was found in him - so far this is the only brain found in a fossil animal.

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Мамонтёнок Юка. Фото: пресс-служба РГО
Мамонтёнок Юка. Фото: пресс-служба РГО

In 2019, Japanese and Russian researchers managed to "revive" the nuclei of Yuka`s cells and introduce them into the cells of laboratory mice. Nuclear proteins - histones - began to work. After a short time, protein division ceased, but at the moment this is the only case of such a "revival" of fossil animal`s cells. Now scientists are making the most daring plans for cloning a mammoth.

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Фото: Алексей Михайлов
Фото: Алексей Михайлов

“The first signs that we can revive the mammoth are already there. Because after 34 thousand years the mammoth`s cells showed activity. This already says something. And with lions, it can be even easier. Cave lions are close in origin to African lions. We will work in the direction of studying their DNA. Now we are negotiating with specialists from Sweden and Japan. We also want to go to the American geneticist George Church, who worked with us during the study of Yuka. Yesterday we took wool samples from Spartak and Boris. We will compare them with wool samples of modern lions from the Crimean zoo. The Work is in full swing, and everything is still to come", - said Valery Plotnikov.

In turn, the director of the “Our North” Foundation, a partner of the Sakha Academy of Sciences (Yakutia) in organizing exhibitions of fossil fauna, Denis Tomtosov said that the mammoth Yuka is planned to be left in Moscow for some time more.

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Фото: Алексей Михайлов
Фото: Алексей Михайлов

“We saw very great interest of people in paleontological exhibits; a huge number of visits to the exhibition with the mammoth and the lion cubs. Volunteers of the RGS Festival, without a break, tell the guests about the history of the finds. We want to provide Muscovites and guests of the capital with the opportunity to look at the mammoth Yuka for some time more. The material for the study has already been extracted from the mammoth`s body, so Yuka can now serve for the benefit of popularizing paleontology. Together with the Russian Geographical Society, we will determine a partner who will provide us with a venue for the mammoth exhibition in Moscow ", said Denis Tomtosov.