January 13, 2009

New Findings On Tasmanian ‘Tigers’

Scientists found that Tasmanian "tigers" may have gone extinct due to inbreeding and are considering resurrecting the Australian marsupials 70 years after they ceased to exist.

"Our goal is to learn how to prevent endangered species from going extinct," said Webb Miller of Pennsylvania State University, who helped lead the international study.

The researchers used the same method used to study the DNA from extinct woolly mammoths' hair to get a good comparison of the gene sequences from Tasmanian tigers, which were striped marsupials that closely resembled a dog.

"What I find amazing is that the two specimens are so similar," said Dr. Anders Gotherstrom of Uppsala University in Sweden, who worked on the study.

"There is very little genetic variation between them."

Scientists point to cheetahs as another species that have little genetic diversity that are at risk of extinction.

"I am expecting that publication of this paper also will reinvigorate discussions about possibly bringing the extinct Tasmanian tiger back to life," Miller said in a statement.

The "tigers" were hunted by European settlers and declared extinct in 1936 when the last zoo specimen died.

The research team sequenced DNA from the hair of a male brought to the U.S. National Zoo in Washington in 1902 and a female that died in the London Zoo in 1893.

Penn State's Stephan Schuster said the work shows it is possible to use hair to resurrect extinct animals.

"The speculation was that the only reason we were able to extract DNA from mammoth hair is that the mammoths had remained frozen in the Arctic permafrost, but our success with the Tasmanian tiger shows that hair can protect DNA for long periods under a variety of environmental conditions," Schuster said.

The findings were published in the journal Genome Research.


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