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For the first time, geneticists were able to isolate and decode RNA molecules from long-dead organisms.
The genetic material – which comes from a 130-year-old thylacine, 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 a scientific journal Research through.
“RNA gives you the opportunity to go through cells and tissues and discover the actual biology that was preserved in time for the animal, the thylacine species, right before it died,” said Emilio Marmol Sanchez, the study’s lead author and a computational biologist. . At the Center for Paleogenetics and SciLifeLab in Sweden.
About the size of a coyote, the thylacine was a marsupial predator. They disappeared about 2,000 years ago almost everywhere except on the Australian island of Tasmania, where their population was hunted to the point of extinction by European settlers. The last thylacine living in captivity, Benjamin, died of exposure in 1936 at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania.
Marmol-Sanchez said although de-extinction was not the goal of her team’s research, a better understanding of the thylacine’s genetic makeup could help launch recent efforts to bring the animal back in some form.
Andrew Pask, of Leading a project aimed at reviving the thylacine, He said the paper was a breakthrough.
“We previously thought that only DNA was left in ancient museums and ancient specimens, but this paper shows that you can also get RNA from tissue,” said Pask, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia and head of Tiger Integrated Genome. Restoration Research Laboratory.”. .
“This will add depth to our understanding of the biology of extinct animals and help us build better genomes,” he added.
Ancient DNA, under the right conditions, can survive for more than a million years, and has revolutionized scientists’ understanding of the past.
RNA, a temporary copy of some DNA, is more fragile and degrades more quickly than DNA, and until recently was not thought to last as long.
In 2019, Tim RNA sequenced from 14,300 year old wolf skin It was preserved in permafrost, but the latest research marks the first time RNA has been discovered from a now-extinct animal.
Marmol-Sanchez says the research is a proof of concept, and his colleagues now hope to recover RNA from long-extinct animals, such as the woolly mammoth.
The research team was able to sequence RNA of skin, muscle and skeletal tissue from the samples and identify thylacine genes. This information is part of what is called an animal’s transcriptome, much like the information stored in DNA known as the genome.
DNA is often described as the instructions for life found in every cell of the body. In addition to other cellular functions, RNA produces proteins by making copies of specific DNA sequences in a process known as transcription.
Understanding the RNA allows scientists to build a more complete picture of the biology of the Sanchez Marmol animal He says. He uses the analogy of a city where every restaurant is assigned a huge cookbook – its DNA. But it is RNA that allows each restaurant to produce different dishes from this reference book.
“If you just focused on the DNA, you wouldn’t be able to see the differences between all these restaurants,” Marmol-Sanchez said. “With RNA…you can now go to a restaurant and taste food, or have paella, or sushi, or sandwiches.”
He added: “You can learn a lot… by reading those recipes, but you will miss the real part of the metabolism and biology that is present in all the restaurants or the cells between them.”
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