In a first, scientists recover RNA from an extinct species – the Tasmanian tiger


Scientists have for the first time recovered and sequenced RNA from an extinct species, the Tasmanian tiger, a researcher at Stockholm University told CBS News. The breakthrough potentially raises hope for the resurrection of animals once thought lost forever.

“People didn’t think it could really be done,” Marc Friedländer, associate professor of molecular biology at Stockholm University, told CBS News.

Love Dalen, a professor of evolutionary genomics at Stockholm University who co-led the project, told AFP that “RNA has never been extracted and sequenced from an extinct species before.”

“The ability to recover RNA from extinct species represents a small step (towards) perhaps being able to revive extinct species in the future,” he said.

Dalen and his team were able to sequence RNA molecules from a 130-year-old Tasmanian tiger specimen stored at room temperature in Sweden’s Museum of Natural History.

SWEDEN-AUSTRALIA-RESEARCH ANIMALS
Daniela Kalthoff, who is responsible for the mammal collection at the Natural History Museum in Stockholm, examines a dry specimen of a Tasmanian tiger on September 26, 2023.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images


They were then able to reconstruct skin and skeletal muscle RNA.

RNA is a molecule used to convey information from the genome to the rest of the cell about what to do.

“If you’re going to revive an extinct animal, you need to know where the genes are and what they do and in which tissue they’re regulated,” Dalen said, explaining the need for knowledge of both DNA and RNA.

Friedländer told CBS News that DNA is stable and preserves well over millions of time, but RNA is very transient and easily destroyed, so the new technique marks a “proof of concept.” He added that RNA can reveal information that DNA cannot.

“If we can take the DNA from an extinct animal, we know what genes were there, but if we get the RNA, we actually know what the genes were doing, which ones were active, so it adds a whole new dimension of information,” he said.

Friedländer said researchers were able to discover a few new genes that could not have been discovered by DNA itself.

The last known living Tasmanian tiger or thylacine, a carnivorous marsupial, died in captivity in 1936 at Beaumaris Zoo in Tasmania.

After European colonization of Australia, the animal was declared a pest, and in 1888 a bounty was offered for every adult animal killed.

Scientists have focused their efforts on eradicating the Tasmanian tiger, as its natural habitat in Tasmania is largely preserved.

Friedländer told CBS News that there are ethical implications to consider in bringing extinct animals back to life.

“For the Tasmanian tiger, you could say that these were actually brought to extinction by humans not too long ago, so in this case we would sort of correct our own interference,” he said.

The findings could “help us understand the nature of pandemics”

Daniela Kalthoff, who is in charge of the mammal collection at the Natural History Museum, said the idea of ​​possibly reviving the Tasmanian tiger was an “exciting idea.”

“This is an amazing animal and I would love to see it live again,” she said, demonstrating the black-and-brown striped skin the researchers used in their study.

Their findings also have implications for studying pandemic RNA viruses.

“Many of the pandemics that have happened in the past have been caused by RNA viruses, most recently the coronavirus, but also … the Spanish flu,” Dalen explained.

“We could actually go and look for these viruses in the remains of wild animals that are stored in dry museum collections. That could actually help us understand the nature of pandemics and where pandemics come from,” he said.

The study opens the door to using museum collections in this new way.

“There are millions and millions of dried skins and dried tissues from insects and mammals and birds and so on in museum collections around the world, and you could actually now go and recover RNA from all those samples,” Dalen said.


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