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42,000 Year-old Baby Mammoth Scanned at GE Healthcare

GE Healthcare got a close-up look at a 42,000 year-old baby woolly mammoth using state of the art medical equipment. Discovered in 2007 by a reindeer herder in northwestern Siberia,  Lyuba (pronounced Lee-OO-bah) is considered the best-preserved mammoth ever discovered. 

Researchers wanted to collect data to learn more about the life and features of this extinct species. “A lot of the information Lyuba can provide is not visible on the surface, so to be able to see things through a CT scan or an MRI which show her internal organs and the structure beneath her skin is really important,” says Tom Swerski, Project Manager of Exhibitions of The Field Museum. 

In collaboration with the International Mammoth Committee (IMC) and The Field Museum, Lyuba was brought to the GE Healthcare Institute in Waukesha, WI to be imaged on three different systems. First, she was scanned on the Discovery CT750 HD, a 64-slice, high definition CT scanner. The images obtained from this scan allow scientists to learn more about her internal mineral deposits as well as her bone structure. Second, in an effort to see her entire skeletal structure from head to tail, she was imaged on the Innova® 4100IQ, a three-dimensional digital X-ray system. Finally, Lyuba was scanned on a high performance open MRI system, the Signa OpenSpeed EXCITE 0.7T, to view her soft tissue including the brain, liver and heart. 

“The emotions we felt in looking at these images were like those we experienced when we saw Lyuba for the first time,” says Daniel Fisher, a University of Michigan professor who has studied mammoths for 30 years and is an IMC member.

The scientists studying Lyuba also have been trying to determine what caused her death. As best as they can tell, she became trapped in a mud hole and inadvertently ingested mud. With the CT scan, the scientists now have evidence of silt in her trunk and in her lungs that confirm her cause of death as accidental suffocation. The cause of death is important because the scientists can reconfirm that Lyuba was not ill or poorly developed, factors that might negate her value as a normal mammoth specimen.

Lyuba is currently on loan from Russia for seven months and will be on display for the first time in the United States in the upcoming exhibition, Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age opening March 5 at The Field Museum in Chicago.