Using hair samples from several different mammoths discovered in Siberian permafrost, the scientists extracted many separate fragments of the 5 billion base pairs of mammoth DNA. They used computers to analyze the genetic information and construct a draft sequence.
Among the findings, mammoth DNA appears to differ from elephant DNA by less than one percent.
Though scientists say the technology does not yet exist to use this genetic code to create a modern living mammoth, they speculate that some day this will be possible.
The researchers were surprised to find very little genetic variation among the various species they analyzed.
"We discovered that individual woolly mammoths were so genetically similar to one another that they may have been especially susceptible to being wiped out by a disease, by a change in the climate, or by humans," said Stephan C. Schuster, one of the project's leaders.
Thanks to advances in technology, the program was completed with a small budget and staff. The task was also accomplished faster than any comparable sequencing program; the project only took a few months from start to finish.