Norwegian scientists claim to have succeeded, for the first time, in recovering ribonucleic acid (RNA) from an extinct species, the Tasmanian tiger.
Never before has the RNA of an extinct species been extracted and sequenced, Love Dalén, professor of evolutionary genetics at Stockholm University, who co-led the project, told AFP.
The ability to recover RNA from extinct species is a first step toward the eventual possibility of resurrecting extinct species.
Professor Dalén and his team successfully sequenced RNA from a 130-year-old Tasmanian tiger specimen held by the Swedish Museum of Natural History.
They were thus able to reconstitute the RNA of the animal’s muscles and skin.
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The Tasmanian tiger specimen used in the study. It is stored at room temperature at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.
Photo : Stockholm University/Emilio Marble Sanchez/Panagiotis Kalogeropoulos
RNA is a molecule that allows the genetic code to be expressed in each cell and thus gives it instructions for action.
The sequences recovered were of such quality that it was possible to identify RNAs coding for proteins specific to muscles and skin, the researchers indicate in a press release.
If we want to resurrect an extinct animal, we need to know where the genes are, what they do, and in which tissues they are regulated.
The last Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial, died in captivity in 1936 in Tasmania (southern Australia).
After European colonization of Australia, the animal was declared a pest and a reward was offered for each animal killed.
Studying RNA viruses
The researchers’ findings will have implications for the study of RNA viruses. Many pandemics have been caused by RNA viruses, such as the coronavirus recently or the Spanish flu previously, Love Dalén said.
We could look for these viruses in the remains of wild animals preserved in the dried specimens of the museum. This could help understand the nature and origin of pandemics.
For Daniela Kalthoff, head of the mammal collection at the Natural History Museum, this opens the way for further research into the exciting idea of a resurrection of the Tasmanian tiger.
The researchers are also considering the possibility of extending RNA recovery to collections in other museums around the world.
There are millions and millions of dried skins and tissues of insects, mammals and birds in museum collections around the world, and we could recover RNA from all of these specimens, says Professor Dalén .
Details of this work are published in the journal Genome Research (New window) (in English).
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