A new study has revealed that continuous hunting by humans was not the only reason behind the extinction of Tasmanian tigers. Rather, the Tasmanian tigers suffered from limited genetic diversity long before their extinction. The DNA sequencing of a native marsupial, called thylacine, revealed that the Tasmanian tigers had poor genetic health for thousands of years before their extinction. That means, their survival was in danger naturally if human hunting is kept aside.
A team of Australian scientists led by Dr. Andrew Pask, from the University of Melbourne sequenced the genome thylacine and revealed this surprising fact about the Tasmanian tigers. “Even if we hadn’t hunted it to extinction, our analysis showed that the thylacine was in very poor genetic health. The population today would be very susceptible to diseases, and would not be very healthy said, Pask.” The research revealed that the Tasmanian Tigers, who got extinct in 1936, were suffering from genetic diversity problems as far as around 70,000 years ago and it made them less resilient to environmental change. As per the study, scientists mapped the thylacine using the genome of a 106-year-old pup that was preserved in a jar in Museums Victoria.
From the study scientists also got to know about some interesting facts regarding their appearances and their resemblance to other species. The research revealed that the Tasmanian tigers had pouches like Kangaroos to carry the young ones also had close resemblance with the dogs. The genetics of the animal were more closely related to the Tasmanian devil than to the dog-like dingo. When the scientists analyzed the thylacine skulls, they found out that they bore similarities to the red fox and grey wolf. “Given the two species are so distantly related, the fact they have skulls almost indistinguishable from one another is incredibly amazing,” Dr. Pask said.
Dr. Pask further said that they are hopeful that there is a lot the thylacine could tell them about the genetic basis of extinction to help other species. The Tasmanian tigers got wiped out from the Australian mainland about three thousand years ago, and a small group of them survived in the southern island state of Tasmania until 1936, when the last known thylacine died in captivity at Hobart Zoo.
Dr. Pask told that if intensive research is done on this thylacine species, then in future scientists will be able to clone the Tasmanian tiger. “As this genome is one of the most complete for an extinct species, it is technically the first step to ‘bringing the thylacine back’, but we are still a long way off that possibility,” he informed.