Tasmanian tigers are believed to have gone extinct in 1936, when the last surviving specimen died in captivity. However, researchers now think they might be able to bring the animal back from the dead. A breakthrough discovery brought back some new information on their DNA, and sequencing it might offer the long-lost species a new chance.
Tasmanian tigers went extinct 80 years ago
Tasmanian tigers were marsupials, and belonged to the same family as wallabies, koalas, and kangaroos. However, it shared some evolutionary traits with dogs, from whose genetic lines they parted 160 million years ago. The animal, also known as thylacine, was sand colored, and had some dark stripes on its back. It existed for several millions of years in Australia and Tasmania, but then humans drove it extinct due to extreme hunting.
However, the situation might not soon change. A team of researchers managed to sequence their DNA, which might be used to bring back the Tasmanian tigers. More than 100 years ago, a team of researchers managed to take a thylacine pup from its mother’s pouch and keep it in alcohol. The DNA of the pup was perfectly preserved.
Tasmanian tigers were already vulnerable when humans appeared
However, the discovery doesn’t only offer a slight chance for the revival of the species. By analyzing the DNA, researchers could see that Tasmanian tigers were already struggling, even before humans started hunting them. The genetic diversity of the species was extremely small, making it vulnerable to any kind of threat.
Due to some unknown natural factors, this diversity, or the number of genetic traits preserved in the DNA, went down between 70,000 and 120,000 years ago. More precisely, this happened before humans reached Australia, at the beginning of one of the glacial cycles.
The genetic sequencing was possible only because the thylacine pup was preserved in alcohol. Whenever researchers tried to sequence some DNA from other remains which belonged to Tasmanian tigers, the genes were way too fragmented. This happened because they collected the DNA from bones or pieces of skin.