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Frozen wolf that's 44,000 years old could have ancient bacteria surviving in its gut

Frozen wolf that's 44,000 years old could have ancient bacteria surviving in its gut

Scientists predict that animal remains might still be present in the wolf’s gut

An ancient wolf that has been frozen for 44,000 years could help scientists develop future medicines.

Scientists at North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk are studying the frozen wolf to understand more about its lifestyle and diet during the Pleistocene era.

They also hope to learn more about ancient bacteria and how the wolf is related to modern animals.

The discovery was made in 2021 by residents of Yakutia in eastern Russia, buried in thick permafrost. This soil is normally frozen all year round but has started to thaw in many places due to the rise in global temperatures.

Finding this wolf came as a complete shock to the research team as it's mostly herbivorous animals that are found in these conditions.

North-Eastern Federal University
North-Eastern Federal University

'Usually, it’s the herbivorous animals that die, get stuck in swamps, freeze and reach us as a whole. This is the first time when a large carnivore has been found,' said Albert Protopopov, head of the department for the study of mammoth fauna at the Yakutia Academy of Sciences.

Despite being over 44,000 years old, the wolf’s teeth, fur and some of its organs are still intact.

'It's shocking, actually,' Robert Losey, an anthropologist at the University of Alberta, told Business Insider.

'It's the only complete adult Pleistocene wolf that's ever been found, so that in itself is really remarkable and completely unique.'

There’s a lot the researchers can learn from this discovery, including its genetics, lifestyle, diet and the kinds of ancient bacteria and viruses it carried.

Yuichiro Chino/Getty
Yuichiro Chino/Getty

Artemy Goncharov, a researcher at the Institute of Experimental Medicine, added: 'Living bacteria can survive for thousands of years, which are a kind of witnesses of those ancient times.'

The wolf has been identified as an adult male that likely hunted giants like woolly rhinoceroses, extinct horses, bison, and reindeer.

What's crazy is that the scientists predict that remains of these animals might still be present in the wolf’s gut. They took samples from its stomach and digestive tract but are still awaiting the results.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this research however is the role the wolf may have in developing future medicines.

They aim to study the functions of ancient microbes in the wolf's gut and check for parasites - which is all part of a larger collaboration to study other animals such as fossil hares, a horse and a bear.

Some microorganisms might be unknown to modern science, which could be a huge revelation.

Featured Image Credit: North-Eastern Federal University / Yuichiro Chino/Getty