Geneticists have made a groundbreaking discovery by isolating and decoding RNA molecules from a 130-year-old Tasmanian tiger specimen. This marks the first time that RNA has been retrieved from an extinct animal. The genetic material was obtained from a specimen in the collection of the Swedish Museum of Natural History. The findings, published in the scientific journal Genome Research, shed light on how the genes of the long-gone Tasmanian tiger functioned.
The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was a marsupial predator that vanished approximately 2,000 years ago, with the exception of a population in Tasmania that was later hunted to extinction. Lead study author Emilio Mármol Sánchez stated that while reintroducing the species was not the objective of the research, a deeper understanding of the Tasmanian tiger’s genetic makeup could aid efforts to resurrect the animal.
Andrew Pask, who heads the Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research Lab, described the study as groundbreaking, as it demonstrates that RNA can be extracted from old museum and ancient samples. This discovery will enhance scientists’ comprehension of extinct animals’ biology and improve the reconstruction of extinct genomes.
Unlike DNA, RNA is a temporary copy of a section of DNA and is more fragile, breaking down quickly. In the past, it was believed that RNA did not endure over time. However, in 2019, researchers sequenced RNA from the skin of a 14,300-year-old wolf preserved in permafrost. The current study further establishes the feasibility of retrieving RNA from extinct animals, with future efforts aimed at recovering RNA from species that disappeared much earlier, such as the woolly mammoth.
The research team successfully sequenced RNA from the Tasmanian tiger specimen’s skin and skeletal muscle tissues, identifying thylacine-specific genes. This information forms the animal’s transcriptome, analogous to the genome stored in DNA. Understanding RNA enables scientists to gain a more comprehensive understanding of an animal’s biology. Mármol Sánchez uses the analogy of a city where each restaurant has access to one giant recipe book (DNA), but it is RNA that allows each restaurant to create distinct dishes. By analyzing RNA, scientists can uncover the intricate biology and metabolism within cells.
This breakthrough in decoding the genetic secrets of an extinct species opens up new possibilities for studying ancient DNA and understanding the intricate workings of long-lost creatures.
– CNN – Geneticists decode RNA of extinct Tasmanian tiger, according to new study (source removed)
– Genome Research – RNA preservation in marsupial tissues: a test case in the Tasmanian tiger (source removed)