(Stockholm) – For the first time, scientists have succeeded in recovering RNA from an extinct species, the Tasmanian tiger, researchers from Stockholm University told AFP on Tuesday.
“Never before has RNA from an extinct species been extracted and sequenced,” Löw Dahlin, a professor of evolutionary genetics who co-led the project, told AFP.
“The ability to recover RNA from extinct species is a first step towards the possibility of eventually reviving extinct species,” he added.
Dallin and his team successfully sequenced RNA from a 130-year-old Tasmanian tiger specimen, held by the National Museum of Natural History in Stockholm.
Thus they were able to reconstruct RNA from the animal’s muscles and skin.
RNA is a molecule that allows the genetic code to be expressed in every cell and thus gives it instructions to function.
The sequences recovered “were of such high quality that it was possible to identify RNA coding for proteins specific to muscle and skin,” the researchers said in a press release.
“If we want to revive an extinct animal, we need to know where the genes are, what they do and in which tissues they are regulated,” Dalin explains.
The last Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial, died in captivity in 1936 in Tasmania (South Australia).
After the European colonization of Australia, the animal was declared a pest and a bounty was offered for every animal killed.
The researchers’ findings will have implications for the study of RNA viruses.
“Many epidemics are caused by RNA viruses, such as the coronavirus recently or the Spanish flu previously,” Dallin said.
“We can search for these viruses in the remains of wild animals preserved in dried specimens in the museum. This may help us understand the nature and origin of epidemics,” he adds.
For Daniela Kalthoff, curator of the mammal collection at the Natural History Museum, this opens the way for new research into the “exciting idea” of reviving the Tasmanian tiger.
The researchers also imagine the possibility of expanding RNA recovery to other 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 can recover RNA from all of these samples,” Dallin says.
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