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Numbat genome mapping could lead to return of the thylacine

Duncan Murray, February 14, 2022 7:00PM Kids News

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It might sound like science fiction, but the possible second coming of the extinct Tasmanian tiger edged a little closer to reality with the successful genome mapping of its nearest living relation, the numbat. media_cameraIt might sound like science fiction, but the possible second coming of the extinct Tasmanian tiger edged a little closer to reality with the successful genome mapping of its nearest living relation, the numbat.

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Aussie scientists are one step closer to bringing the Tasmanian tiger back from extinction* after successfully mapping the genome* of their closest living relative, the numbat*.

The project was carried out by the University of Western Australia’s (UWA) DNA* Zoo.

Those involved said successfully sequencing* the numbat genome brought the once impossible idea of bringing thylacines* back from the dead closer than ever before.

Newly Released Footage Gives Last-Known Glimpse of Extinct Tasmanian tiger

“The termite-eating numbat is one of the thylacine’s closest living relatives, sharing a common ancestor* around 35 million years ago,” DNA Zoo director and associate professor Parwinder Kaur explained.

“Both these enigmatic* creatures have stripes, but that’s not where the similarity ends – as much as 95 per cent of their DNA may be identical.”

Numbats were on the verge of extinction themselves during the late 20th century, having once roamed throughout southern Australia.

Conservation* efforts by community and government helped them survive, although with less than 1000 left in the wild, the species is still considered endangered.

Numbat media_cameraThe distinctive striped fur is not the only thing numbats and thylacines have in common – researchers suggest as much as 95 per cent of their DNA may be identical. Picture: iStock

Perth Zoo, which provided the blood sample for the mapping, is the only one in the world to breed numbats in captivity*.

Since 1993, the zoo has successfully bred and released into the wild more than 220 of the special animals.

The genome map will also help guide better decision-making for protecting numbats into the future.

Numbats also happen to be Western Australia’s animal emblem*.

“The mapping of the numbat genome is a wonderful scientific achievement which will play a crucial role in our conservation efforts,” WA Environment Minister Reece Whitby said.

“Western Australia is a biodiversity* hotspot with some of the most unique wildlife in the world.

“This wildlife needs to be understood and protected, and the partnership between Perth Zoo and DNA Zoo will help to achieve this.”

Breaking News Breaking News Tasmanian Tiger photo media_cameraAnimal protection has come a very long way since the sad fate of the thylacine, a species native to Tasmania that has been presumed extinct since the last known tiger died in captivity in 1936.

The DNA Zoo is helping lead the world in mapping animal DNA, which it makes freely available for scientific and conservation purposes.

DNA Zoo at UWA is the lead Australian node for the global project and has so far has identified more than 100 species at Perth Zoo for genome sequencing, with a priority focus on WA’s endangered native mammals.

GLOSSARY

  • extinction: dying out, extermination, end of a species
  • genome: complete set of genetic information in an organism
  • numbat: small Australian marsupial with reddish-brown coat and white stripes
  • DNA: self-replicating material in living things that carries all genetic information
  • sequencing: order of the four chemical building blocks that make up the DNA molecule
  • thylacine: Tasmanian tiger, a doglike, carnivorous marsupial, presumed extinct
  • ancestor: predecessor, earlier type from which others have evolved
  • enigmatic: mysterious, elusive, not easily understood
  • conservation: efforts to preserve and protect animals, plants and natural resources
  • captivity: confinement, held, kept somewhere and unable to leave
  • emblem: symbol, representation, the token or image of something
  • biodiversity: variety of plant and animal life generally or in a particular habitat

EXTRA READING

Last-known film of not-so-fierce thylacine

Kurt the cloned horse kicking up his heels

Massive stringy clone colony filmed off WA

Quest to bring woolly mammoths back to life

QUICK QUIZ

  1. Which animal is the Tasmanian tiger’s closest living relation?
  2. Where was the genome mapping project carried out?
  3. What does the numbat eat?
  4. How old is the numbat and thylacine’s common ancestor?
  5. How many numbats are left in the wild?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Back from the dead
This scientific research is exciting if it may lead to bringing extinct species back to life by re-creating their DNA. And that could open up a whole world of possibilities.

If you could bring an extinct creature back to life, what would it be?

What might the consequences of bringing this creature back to life?

Do we have the right food sources and habitat for it to survive?

Could it live in today’s world alongside the human population?

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science; Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Why do you think Western Australia is home to some of the most unique wildlife in the world?

How will this DNA Zoo help protect wildlife species into the future?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science; Geography; Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Back from extinction
With scientists another step closer in their efforts to bring the Tasmanian tiger back from extinction, we have to ask … will it be friend or foe to the current wildlife or farming areas? The Tasmanian tiger was a natural predator, so if it is one day cloned and released, how do we make sure it doesn’t cause more harm than good?

Create a list of solutions to present to the local community of people who might be concerned about a predatory animal being released back into the wild. Obviously this scenario is still a long time away, but can you help put some minds at ease?

Remember that the audience you are presenting your solutions to will need convincing that your ideas are worth considering. Use formal and emotive language to show that you have really considered the possible implications and have come up with some pretty good solutions. To create an even bigger impact, try including the potential problem in the argument, then address the issue by offering a solution. This will show the audience you are really considering their thoughts and feelings.

Read your solutions out loud to see how they sound. Remember to use your presentation voice (imagine you are reading it out at assembly, for example) to really hear the voice you have created in the piece.

Extra Reading in animals