The thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger, is an extinct marsupial that looked much like a large dog and had stripes like a tiger. Thylacines have been a major focus for discussions about the possibility of bringing extinct species back to life, but despite the availability of many bones and other remains, attempts to read thylacine DNA sequences (which should be far easier than trying to clone an extinct animal) had so far been largely unsuccessful.
A team led by Drs. Stephan Schuster and Webb Miller at the Pennsylvania State University has now successfully sequenced the DNA found in the mitochondria of two thylacine specimens. Our findings are presented in a paper and supplementary material published in the journal Genome Research. One of the specimens was from the Smithsonian Institution, and much is known about its history. The other specimen was from the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm. DNA was extracted from hair shafts, sequenced, and analyzed using techniques pioneered by Schuster, Miller, and colleagues; for the most part, these were the same methods that succeeded with the woolly mammoth genome. Our data include the mitochondrial sequence of a living marsupial, the numbat, which we used to help determine how thylacines were related to other mammals.
This project is a step toward the team's overarching goal of studying museum specimens by using modern methods for determining and analyzing DNA sequences, a field we call museomics. Our main motivation for this work is to better understand mammalian extinction events, and hopefully help to prevent them. However, we doubt that it will be feasible in the foreseeable future to bring back the thylacine.
This website collects information about thylacines and our efforts to sequence their DNA. The new mitochodrial sequences are here.