Scientists have, for the first time, isolated and decoded RNA molecules from the extinct Tasmanian tiger, a species that was last seen alive 87 years ago, in 1936, CNN has reported.
The genetic material was taken from a 130-year-old Tasmanian tiger specimen that has been housed in the collection of the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, Sweden.
Though the last known Tasmanian tiger, named Benjamin, died in captivity in 1936 at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania, the species became severely endangered more than 2,000 years ago because of overhunting. The species was about the size of a coyote and was a marsupial predator.
The scientists’ work was published in the scientific journal Genome Research. “Our results represent the first successful attempt to obtain transcriptional profiles from an extinct animal species, providing thought-to-be-lost information on gene expression dynamics,” they wrote in the abstract.
While the scientists do not plan to use this genetic material to clone or resurrect the Tasmanian tiger like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park — the study’s lead author, Emilio Mármol Sánchez, a computational biologist at the Centre for Palaeogenetics and SciLifeLab in Sweden, told CNN that research, not resurrection, was the goal of the study — there are people out there who do have that aim.
Andrew Pask, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia and head of the Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research Lab, is leading an effort to use DNA and RNA to bring the Tasmanian tiger back from extinction.
Pask told CNN that the new study “will add significant depth to our understanding of the biology of extinct animals and help us to build much better extinct genomes.”
Though many species have gone extinct because of human activities, modern science does potentially make it possible for some of them to return in some form — and, of course, some species that were thought to be extinct still exist in small numbers, such as an extremely rare tree that was recently discovered in Brazil.
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