Scientists have recovered RNA from an extinct organism for the first time

Emilio Marmol Sanchez

The researchers took tissue samples from a 130-year-old Tasmanian tiger specimen stored at room temperature at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm.

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Geneticists have isolated and decoded RNA molecules from a long-dead organism for the first time.

Genetic material from a 130-year-old Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, specimen in the collection of the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm has allowed scientists to better understand how the animal’s genes work. The researchers shared their findings in a study published Tuesday in the journal Science Genetic research.

“The RNA goes through the cells, the tissues, and gives you the opportunity to find out the actual biology that those animals, the thylacine species, preserved before they died,” said lead study author Emilio Marmol Sánchez. at the Center for Paleogenetics and LifeLife Lab in Sweden.

About the size of a coyote, the thylacine is a marsupial predator. It disappeared about 2,000 years ago everywhere except in the Australian island state of Tasmania, where the population was hunted to extinction by European settlers. The last thylacine in captivity, named Benjamin, died of exposure in 1936 at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania.

Marmol Sánchez said that while his team’s research did not destroy the target, a better understanding of the Tasmanian tiger’s genetic makeup could help the animal’s recovery efforts begin soon.

Andrew Bask, who leads a project aimed at resurrecting the thylacine, He said the paper was “basic”.

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“We used to think that old museum and ancient specimens only contained DNA, but this paper shows you can get RNA from tissue,” said Bask, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia and head of the Thylasin Integrated Genome Recombination Research Laboratory. .

“This will add significant depth to our understanding of the biology of extinct animals and help us generate better extinct genomes,” he added.

Ancient DNA, under the right conditions, can last for over a million years and has revolutionized scientists’ understanding of the past.

RNA, a temporary copy of a segment of DNA, is more fragile than DNA and breaks down more quickly and, until very recently, was not thought to last for any length of time.

In 2019, a team RNA was sequenced from a 14,300-year-old wolf skin It was preserved in permafrost, but recent research has recovered RNA from a now-extinct animal.

Mármol Sánchez said the study is a proof of concept and that his colleagues hope to recover RNA from long-dead animals like the woolly mammoth.

The research team was able to sequence RNA from skin and skeletal muscle tissue from the sample and identify thylacin-specific genes. Just as the information stored in DNA is known as the genome, this information is part of an animal known as the transcriptome.

DNA is often described as the instruction manual for life in every cell of the body. In addition to other cellular functions, RNA makes proteins by making copies of specific DNA in a process called transcription.

Understanding RNA allows scientists to piece together a complete picture of animal biology, Marmol Sanchez said. He uses the analogy of a city where every restaurant is given a giant cookbook – the DNA. However, it is RNA that allows each restaurant to prepare different dishes from that reference book.

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“If you focus on DNA alone, you can’t capture the differences between these restaurants,” Marmol Sanchez said. “By using RNA … you can now go to a restaurant and taste the food, taste paella, sushi or sandwiches.”

“You can learn a lot by reading those recipes, but you miss the actual bits of metabolism, the biology, that all those restaurants or cells have with each other.”

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