For the first time, researchers have inserted the genetic material of an extinct animal into a living one. The finding shows how lost information about species from the past can be retrieved, and also provides a glimpse into how long-gone creatures may someday get a second chance at life.
"Now that we've shown you can do this, it opens up the floodgates for all kinds of extinct species," says Andrew Pask, a fellow in zoology at the University of Melbourne in Australia and lead author of a paper published in the online journal PLoS ONE. The gene that the scientists activated in mouse fetuses contained instructions that helped produce cartilage in the rodent's developing skeleton.
The Tasmanian tiger DNA came from specimens that had been preserved in a museum for over a century. The researchers selected a gene called Col2a1 that is possessed by many vertebrates, ranging from mice to people. By attaching a marker to the Tasmanian tiger's version of Col2a1 that glows blue when stained by a chemical, scientists were able to see where the mouse's body had expressed the gene of the departed beast.
"We saw the genetic information of an extinct animal get read out into a blue pattern," says co-author Richard Behringer, a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.