Could a scientific breakthrough involving the humble numbat hold the key to one day resurrecting the Tasmanian tiger?
Researchers from the University of Western Australia and DNA Zoo Australia mapped the DNA of the numbat for the first time using a blood sample provided by Perth Zoo.
The chromosome length genome map is expected to contribute significantly to conservation efforts, with less than 1000 numbats remaining in the wild.
And according to UWA associate professor Parwinder Kaur, it could help scientists decode other close relatives — including the thylacine, which has been extinct since the 1930s.
Professor Kaur believes this will open up the possibility of bringing the Tasmanian tiger back, similar to efforts by US scientists to resurrect the woolly mammoth using DNA from an Asian elephant.
She says the numbat could share up to 95% of its DNA with its carnivorous marsupial companion.
“We’ve come a long, long way in terms of technological development, and I don’t see any problem that in the next decade we’ll have the technology and we’ll have the know-how to wipe out or resurrect our favorite species. who are long gone,” she said on Tuesday.
“The most important thing we have in hand right now is a million species on the brink of extinction. We need to save them first…before we start the Jurassic Park dream.”
Professor Kaur said advances in research and technology meant the numbat genome cost just $1,000, a far cry from the $2.7 billion cost associated with the first human genome map completed in 2009 .
DNA Zoo Australia has identified over 100 species for sampling at Perth Zoo, where hundreds of numbats have been bred and released into the wild.
Environment Minister Reece Whitby said the breakthrough would play an important role in the conservation of Western Australia’s endangered mammal species.
“We can speculate what might happen in the future, but it’s really about protecting species alive today that are threatened, like the numbat,” he said.
“If we know more about their DNA, then we can make sure we match the right numbats to reproduce and increase the likelihood that they produce offspring here at the zoo that then get brought back to places like the National Park of Dryandra.”
Australian Associated Press