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Science
FRONTIERS
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Wednesday 21:00-21:30
Frontiers explores new ideas in science, meeting the researchers who see the world through fresh eyes and challenge existing theories - as well as hearing from their critics. Many such developments create new ethical and moral questions and Frontiers is not afraid to consider these.
radioscience@bbc.co.uk
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Listen to 15 May
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PETER EVANS
Peter Evans
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Wednesday 15 May 2002
Woolly Mammoth - from Walking with Beasts

What happened to the Woolly Mammoth?

That's the question that Frontiers will be asking this week and its a question that's been puzzling palaeontologists and climate scientists for many years. What force was great enough to wipe from the earth not only the Woolly Mammoth but all the other mega fauna that once roamed the planet, from the Sabre Toothed Tiger to the Giant Sloth. These giant beasts all vanished from the fossil record around the same time, but as yet, there are no clear answers as to who or what was responsible for their untimely demise. Were they victims of over hunting from hungry hunters with a taste for mammoth burgers, or did a sudden change in climate cause their extinction?

According to Dr Ross MacPhee of the American Museum of Natural History, mammoths and their woolly friends should still be around. "If you give them a shave, they're very much like a modern elephant", MacPhee points out. "These guys are incredibly buffered against extinction." Yet die out they did, and in a relatively short period of time. Ross MacPhee believes the only thing capable of causing such a dramatic extinction was a highly lethal infectious disease. To investigate the hyperdisease theory, Macphee and his team have been analysing woolly mammoth remains from Siberia, trying to isolate the super virus he believes wiped out these furry beasts. Peter Evans visits him in New York to find out where this virus might have come from and why it proved so fatal for the mega fauna.
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