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The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

Woolly Mammoth Hemoglobin and Extreme Adaptations


Nora S. Green
Department of Chemistry
Randolph-Macon College


Woolly mammoths and other cold-adapted animals, such as reindeer and musk ox, developed a number of adaptations that allowed them to survive in frigid environments. These include small ears, thick fur, and even long tusks. Many of these species developed methods that preserve heat in the core and allow legs and feet to cool in the snow. Researchers, however, realized that cold extremities could pose a problem for the delivery of oxygen to the cells of those limbs and began to investigate the differences between the hemoglobin of cold-adapted and warm-adapted mammals. This directed case study examines the difference in hemoglobin structure between humans, Asian elephants, and woolly mammoths to provide insight into one of the important cold adaptations of the woolly mammoth. It was developed for the first semester of a two-semester, upper-level biochemistry sequence and was presented after students had learned the basics of protein structure, allosteric effectors, and human hemoglobin. This case could also be used in a single semester biochemistry course.


  • Explain the role that heat plays in the delivery of oxygen in humans, elephants, and woolly mammoths.
  • Describe the role of 2,3-bisphosphoglycerate (2,3-BPG) with regard to hemoglobin in these species.
  • Interpret relative binding affinities from binding curves.
  • Explain how mutations can affect the binding of allosteric effectors.
  • Compare the importance of the Bohr effect in different species.
  • Identify different types of amino acid substitutions in proteins.


Hemoglobin; allosteric effectors; adaptations; protein structure; biochemistry; mammoth;

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate upper division



Type / Methods




Subject Headings

Biochemistry  |   Evolutionary Biology  |   Paleontology  |  

Date Posted


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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  • Mammoth Blood Protein Brought Back to Life
    This video interview with Kevin Campbell, a physiologist with the University of Manitoba, provides in-depth explanation of how his international team of researchers was able to recreate woolly mammoth hemoglobin. Running time: 15:37 min. Produced by University of Manitoba, 2010.
  • Resurrected Mammoth Blood Very Cool
    This video interview features Alan Cooper, a member of an international team of researchers, who explains how they were able to successfully resurrect the hemoglobin of a woolly mammoth. Running time: 5:17 min. Produced by Environment Institute, University of Adelaide, 2010.