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RNA recovery to resurrect extinct ‘Tasmanian tiger’

Published: 22nd Sep, 2023


In a groundbreaking achievement, researchers have announced that they successfully recovered RNA, from preserved Tasmanian tiger skin and muscle specimens dating back to 1891 stored in a museum in Stockholm.

About the study:

  • This study marks the first time RNA, which is less stable than DNA, has been retrieved from an extinct species.
  • Significance: This research could have significant impact to recreate the species and moreover, the ability to recover RNA from ancient viruses may aid in understanding viruses.

What are DNA and RNA?

Nucleic acids, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and Ribonucleic acid (RNA), carry genetic information which is read in cells to make the RNA and proteins by which living things function.

  • DNA:  DNA is a molecule that carries the genetic instructions necessary for the growth, development, functioning, and reproduction of all known living organisms, from simple bacteria to complex humans.

DNA was discovered in 1869 by a Swiss biochemist, Friedrich Miescher.

    • Humans have a diploid genome, inheriting one set of chromosomes from each parent.
    • DNA has a unique double helix structure composed of four nucleotide bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G).
  • RNA: Chemically RNA is similar to DNA; it is a chain of similar monomers.
    • The building blocks are nucleotides containing the 5-carbon sugar ribose, a phosphate and a nitrogenous base.
    • RNA contains four bases adenine, guanine, cytosine and uracil.

DNA vs. RNA:

RNA is more labile (easily broken down) than DNA and most RNA molecules do not form stable secondary structures.

The Tasmanian tiger:

  • Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus), the only animal in the Thylacinidae family to survive in modern times, was a marsupial mammal that raises young ones in a pouch.
  • The animal went extinct in the 1930s and was native to the island of Tasmania, where it had lived for around 2 million years.
  • Its DNA also has a lot in common with the kangaroo.
  • Even though the species earned its nickname Tasmanian tiger because of the stripes along its back, it was a slow-paced carnivorous that usually hunted alone or in pairs at night.
  • The sharply clawed animal had a dog-like head and ate kangaroos, other marsupials, small rodents, and birds.
  • Once widespread in the grass and woodlands of continental Australia extending north to New Guinea and south to Tasmania, the animal’s fate changed after the European Colonisation of Australia.
  • The animals were reported to have eaten poultry of farmers, and were killed following official authorisation.

Recent efforts to regenerate the species:

  • The scientists will work with stem cells taken from the closest related living species, the fat-tailed dunnart, which they plan to, convert to those of a Tasmanian tiger by using gene-editing technologies.
  • Colossal plans to essentially create a hybrid animal with many of the characteristics of a Tasmanian tiger.
  • If the conversion works, the stem cells can then be made into an embryo, which can either be grown in a lab or transferred to a surrogate dunnart mother.

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