The thylacine, known as the Tasmanian tiger, was a marsupial that resembled a wolf and went extinct in 1936. A 130-year-old museum specimen has now provided researchers with fragments of its RNA.
- Research Significance: This achievement, published in Genome Research, has given researchers insight into thylacine biology and could possibly contribute to attempts at bringing the species back from extinction.
- Thylacine Demise: The animal was hunted to near-extinction due to its perceived threat to livestock as sheep farming expanded in 1800s Tasmania.
- DNA vs. RNA: While the thylacine’s genetic blueprint had been previously mapped, only RNA can illustrate how an organism’s cells genuinely worked, according to Emilio Mármol-Sánchez, a geneticist involved in the study.
- Extraction Process: The specimen was found stored in Stockholm’s Natural History Museum. The researchers gathered samples from it, isolated nucleotides, and then compared the RNA sequences with a database that includes the thylacine genome.
- Findings: The analysis revealed distinct protein-coding RNA molecules in skin and muscle samples. Furthermore, over 250 thylacine-specific short RNA molecules, or microRNAs, were discovered which regulate cell functioning.
- Impressiveness: Andrew Pask, a developmental biologist, highlights the significance of these findings since RNA is less stable than DNA and the specimen was stored at room temperature, not in sterile or frozen conditions.
- Future Prospects: There’s an ongoing effort to bring the thylacine back to Tasmania by modifying the genes of a related marsupial, the fat-tailed dunnart. The newly uncovered RNA information could be instrumental in this de-extinction process, adding a deeper layer of understanding about the animal’s attributes.