Raising the Dead

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The thylacine, known also as the Tasmanian tiger, went fully extinct when the last one died in a Tasmanian zoo in 1936.

Despite the lack of a surviving member of the species, scientists recently successfully recovered RNA from the marsupial carnivore, the first time such a feat has been accomplished for any extinct species, Gizmodo reported.

In their paper, a research team extracted, sequenced and studied the RNA – short for Ribonucleic acid – from the skin and skeletal muscle tissue of a 130-year-old thylacine specimen in the Stockholm Natural History Museum in Sweden.

Similar to DNA, RNA is a molecular composition consisting of nucleotides. RNA is single-stranded and serves roles in protein synthesis as well as transporting genetic material in certain viruses.

“This is the first time that we have been able to catch a glimpse of the actual biology and metabolism of Tasmanian tiger cells right before they died,” explained lead author Emilio Mármol-Sánchez.

The Tasmanian tiger was considered the largest carnivorous marsupial in recent times and was native to the island of Tasmania, off the coast of Australia. The species’ numbers severely dropped during the 19th and 20th centuries as a result of overhunting, habitat loss, and introduced diseases.

Recently, the biotech company Colossal Biosciences announced its plans to create a surrogate species resembling the thylacine and release it into Tasmania’s forests.

The authors, however, noted that their findings weren’t focused on de-extinction efforts. Instead, they said that the marsupial offered a unique opportunity to recover and analyze RNA from an extinct species.

“In the future, we may be able to recover RNA not only from extinct animals, but also RNA virus genomes such as SARS-CoV2 … and other host organisms held in museum collections”, said co-author Love Dalén.


Correction: In Wednesday’s DISCOVERIES section, we said in our “The Head of Terror” item that the prehistoric predator’s name Pampaphoneus biccai translates to “terrible head” in Greek. In fact, that translation is attributed to the creature’s group, dinocephalia. We apologize for the error.

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