Tasmanian tiger genome sequenced for the first time
A TEAM OF scientists from the University of Melbourne have successfully sequenced an entire Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) genome for the first time.
The successful genetic sequencing, which first began over 10 years ago, has revealed the tiger’s relatively poor health before going extinct, suggesting that they would have faced similar struggles to Tasmanian Devils had they survived.
“If we hadn’t hunted them into extinction the population would be in very poor genetic health like the devil… The thylacine would have been at a similar risk of contracting devastating diseases,” Andrew Pask, a biologist from the University of Melbourne, who worked on the project, told Australian Geographic.
“What was surprising is that this loss in population diversity was presumed to have occurred as a population of thylacines became isolated on Tasmania some 15 thousand years ago when the land bridge closed.
“Our analyses show that both the devil and thylacine already had very low diversity and poor genetic health long before the land bridge closed between Tasmania and the mainland.”
Putting together the genome
According to Andrew, putting together the genome was no easy task.
“Because of the age of the specimens the DNA is very damaged and fragmented into tiny pieces. This genome sequencing project began over 10 years ago, shortly after we published the first mouse transgenic for an extinct gene, using thylacine DNA.
“We embarked on a huge survey of museum specimens to try to find samples with more intact genetic material. In the end we identified a fixed pouch young specimen from the Museums Victoria collection, which had much more intact DNA than other specimens examined, enabling us to sequence and assemble the genome.”
Andrew said that piecing together the genome is the first step towards bringing the Thylacine back from extinction; however he added that this won’t happen anytime soon.
“We would still need to develop a marsupial animal model to host the thylacine genome, like work conducted to include mammoth genes in the modern elephant,” he said.