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DNA suggests North American mammoth species interbred

Supposedly separate types may really have been one

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4:47pm, November 8, 2011

LAS VEGAS — The two major species of North American mammoth may actually have been one. DNA analysis of the Ice Age beasts’ remains suggests that the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) interbred with what has been considered a separate, more southerly species — the Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi).

Although separate animal species do interbreed now and then, mammoth mixing may have been more than an occasional fluke. Two Columbian specimens turn out to carry woollylike DNA inherited from their mothers, said Ross MacPhee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who presented the findings November 3 at a meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“Woolly and Columbian mammoths may be so close that they should really be regarded as the same thing,” he said. “One extraordinarily variable species.”

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