EnviroDNA has created a probe that could determine if the Tasmanian Tiger still exists in the wild. (Image Credit: Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, PH30-1-9210)
Nothing more fun in science than advances in Cryptozoology. EnviroDNA, an Australian-based company that specializes in environment DNA (eDNA) research, has created a technique that could detect the presence of the famed Tasmanian Tiger. The company’s research involves cultivating traces of an animal’s DNA that was left behind in the environment through the shedding of skin cells, scales, hair, and other bodily secretions. It’s then compared against a genetic database to produce a catalog of animals living in specific areas.
EnviroDNA works with a range of industries across Australia to detect species of interest to improve environmental management outcomes for wildlife and ecosystems. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had deemed the Tasmanian Tiger extinct in 1982.
Michael Moss, a Tasmanian Tiger researcher, had reached out to EnviroDNA to help create a genetic profile of the creature, which could be applied to environmental DNA studies. Moss had spent many years searching for evidence of the Tasmanian Tiger’s existence, known as the thylacine, in the wild. On its website, EnviroDNA acknowledged that the thylacine is extinct and its genetic material cannot be found in the wild. The group also said the opportunity to explore DNA from one of Australia’s lost creatures sparked the team’s curiosity to tackle the project.
By using genetic mapping, which was done by University of Melbourne researchers, from a preserved 108-year old thylacine pup, the company was able to develop a probe for the extinct species. In turn, this can be compared with materials accumulated in an eDNA study. To test out their technique, EnviroDNA’s researchers used thylacine hair to successfully obtain a positive signal from DNA extracted from the hair sample via the new probe. The team went on to explain that the probe could potentially detect traces of thylacine DNA in the wild, giving Moss hope that he could one day find a living Tasmanian Tiger.
However, the probe still needs to be in-field tested, and its field sensitivity is challenging to establish. Though, if a Tasmanian Tiger exists in the wild, it could pick up trace materials left behind by the animal. This isn’t the first time that environment DNA research has been used to look into a cryptozoological mystery. Last summer, a study at Loch Ness was conducted, which concluded that it was most likely a giant eel lurking in the waters instead of the legendary monster.
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