You wash your hands before supper, and you irradiate your mammoths before public display. French customs requires the latter, so researchers plan to hit the world’s oldest baby mammoth with three days worth of gamma rays.
In July 2009, a hunter found the mammoth, now known as Khoma, partially frozen in Siberia. Foxes had used the animal as a giant chew toy, and it was missing bits of its head and trunk. Still, at over 50,000 years old Khoma was a prize: the oldest known mammoth infant.
Here’s hoping those foxes didn’t get sick. Tests have revealed that really old microbes live inside the frozen corpse, and researchers say the mix may include the bacterium anthracis, which can lead to anthrax and black lung disease. Researchers want to irradiate the animal to kill off these microbes before giving the furry babe an autopsy and putting it up for display.
Laurent Cortella, a nuclear physician, told the AFP:
“Our baby, inside its box, will undergo three to four days of a continuous bombardment of 20,000 grays of gamma rays,” he said, grays being the unit that measures absorbed dosage…. “The slightest lethargic little germ from time immemorial hasn’t the least chance of resisting when you realise that one gamma ray of four grays kills a human.”
The lab has used the same technique on other old stuff, including one celebrity corpse: the 1,800-year-old mummy of Ramses II, who had a nasty fungal infection.
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Image: flickr / PhiveKali