For the first time in history, RNA has been recovered from an extinct species.  It may be possible to revive it

For the first time in history, geneticists have been able to isolate and decode an RNA molecule from a long-extinct creature – the Tasmanian tiger. Thanks to this, they will be able to better study this species and perhaps revive it in the future.

The genetic material for the study came from a 130-year-old specimen of a Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus), which is in the collection of the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. A team from Sweden and Norway was able to sequence (read) the RNA of skin, muscle and skeletal muscle from a sample and identify the genes of the Tasmanian tiger. The scientists shared their findings in an article published on Tuesday, September 19, in the scientific journal Genome Research.

“RNA provides an opportunity to study the true biology of an animal that was preserved just before its death,” said the study’s lead author, Emilio Marmol Sanchez, a biologist at the Wienergren Institute in Sweden.

As the researchers wrote, RNA, a temporary copy of a section of DNA, is more fragile and degrades faster than DNA. Until recently, it was thought that it could not survive for hundreds of years. However, it turns out that it is possible.

A Tasmanian tiger from the collections of the Swedish Museum of Natural History in StockholmEmilio Marmola Sancheza in Genome Research

Species revival

The Tasmanian tiger was a coyote-sized predatory marsupial, belonging to the wolf family (Thylacinidae). They became extinct about 2000 years ago. The last captive individual, named Benjamin, died in 1936 at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania.

Marmol Sanchez said that thanks to this discovery it will be possible to better understand the genetic makeup of the Tasmanian tiger and recreate this species in the future.

Archive videos of Tasmanian wolves at Hobart ZooThe legendary Tasmanian wolf has become the subject of research by scientists. Although this species was believed to have become extinct in the 1930s, recent reports made researchers decide to check whether these animals were actually extinct.

Andrew Pask, who is leading the Tasmanian Tiger Revival Project, said the discovery was groundbreaking.

“We previously thought that only DNA remained in ancient museum collections, but this paper shows that RNA can also be obtained from tissues,” said Pask, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia. “This will increase our understanding of the biology of extinct animals and help us build much better genomes for extinct creatures,” he added. The genome is the complete genetic information of an organism.

In 2019, the team sequenced (read) RNA from the skin of a 14,300-year-old wolf that had been preserved in permafrost.

A Tasmanian tiger from the collections of the Swedish Museum of Natural History in StockholmEmilio Marmola Sancheza in Genome Research

Main image source: Emilio Marmola Sancheza in Genome Research

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