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Will new research help bring back the extinct Tasmanian tiger?

by Rich Bowden - Jan 14 2009, 01:51

New research by an international team of experts has unravelled a type of DNA the extinct Tasmanian tiger inherited from its mother, raising hopes that one day the method will be used to bring back the tiger and other extinct species.

The important research, carried out by scientists from the United States, Sweden, Spain, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Germany, will also help experts better understand why species become extinct and how this can be prevented.

"Our goal is to learn how to prevent endangered species from going extinct," said Webb Miller, a Penn State professor of biology, computer science and engineering, as reported by the Environmental News Network (ENN).

"I want to learn as much as I can about why large mammals become extinct because all my friends are large mammals," Miller said. "However, I am expecting that publication of this paper also will reinvigorate discussions about possibly bringing the extinct Tasmanian tiger back to life."

The last known Tasmanian tiger died in Hobart Zoo in 1936 and, while hunting was considered the main reason for its obliteration, the team found that hereditary information gleaned from two tigers from exhibits held in Swedish and U.S. museums showed little in the way of DNA diversity.

The discovery suggests the tiger was on the edge of extinction due to inbreeding, which is a lesson for research on currently endangered species, says the team.

"Looking at the genetic diversity in a population is a key marker for endangerment and it should be used to assess the urgency of preservation," Professor Stephan Schuster from Penn State University told BBC News.

The findings of the research are published in the journal Genome Research.

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