Geneticists have achieved a significant milestone by successfully recovering and decoding the RNA (ribonucleic acid) of an extinct animal, the Tasmanian tiger. The research team isolated RNA from a 130-year-old thylacine specimen, also known as the Tasmanian tiger, at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. This breakthrough is significant because while DNA is usually extracted from fossils, RNA extraction provides more valuable information about the organism.

RNA carries genetic information and plays a crucial role in protein synthesis and the regulation of cellular metabolism. By analyzing the RNA, scientists gain insights into the biology and metabolic regulation of the extinct species. The team discovered a specific thylacine microRNA isoform that would not have been confirmed without RNA evidence.

However, isolating RNA from ancient samples poses significant challenges. Unlike DNA, RNA is single-stranded and less stable, making it prone to rapid degradation. Researchers had to adapt their extraction method to work with the oldest sample. They managed to extract millions of RNA fragments from the thylacine’s muscle and skin tissues.

The thylacine, a top predator similar in size to a wolf, faced extinction due to human activities. European settlers hunted them to near extinction in the 18th century because they posed a threat to livestock. In the 20th century, the thylacine survived only in Tasmania. The last known specimen died in a Tasmanian zoo in 1936. Despite efforts to find hidden populations, the species is considered extinct.

The findings of the study have potential implications beyond scientific research. Some scientists are interested in using genetic information to resurrect the thylacine. While the RNA study is not directly related to these efforts, it provides valuable information about the species’ genetic composition, tissue-specific gene expression, and possible viral infections.

The extraction and decoding of RNA from an extinct animal open doors to a deeper understanding of the biology of extinct species and the possibility of reconstructing their genomes with greater precision.

– Scientific Study 1
– Scientific Study 2