What if science could resurrect extinct animal species? This is the hope born after researchers at Stockholm University succeeded for the first time in recovering ribonucleic acid (RNA) from an extinct species, Tasmanian tigers.
“Never before has the RNA of an extinct species been extracted and sequenced,” Love Dalén, professor of evolutionary genetics 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,” he added.
The muscles and skin of the animal reconstituted
Dalen and his team successfully sequenced RNA from a 130-year-old Tasmanian tiger specimen held by the National Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. They were thus able to reconstitute the RNA from the animal’s muscles and skin.
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 said 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,” explains Dalén.
Hope for other species?
The last Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial, died in captivity in 1936 in Tasmania (southern Australia). For Daniela Kalthoff, in charge of the mammal collection at the Natural History Museum, this opens the way to new research into the “exciting idea” of a resurrection of the Tasmanian tiger.
The researchers also imagine the possibility of extending 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 could recover RNA from all of these specimens,” says Dalén.