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Environmental DNA Company Develops Tasmanian Tiger Test

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By Tim Binnall

In what may lead to a breakthrough in determining whether or not the famed Tasmanian Tiger still exists, an Australian company specializing in environmental DNA research has developed a method for detecting the presence of the famed creature. The burgeoning field of environmental DNA research centers around the cultivation of shed skin cells, hair and other minute biological material found in soil or water and then comparing it against a genetic database to create a catalog of creatures living in a certain area. Conversely, the technique can also be used to look for one specific animal, which is how it wound up capturing the interest of prominent thylacine researcher Michael Moss.

The longtime Tasmanian Tiger seeker turned to the Australian company EnviroDNA and enlisted them to create a genetic profile of the creature which could then be applied to environmental DNA studies. Announcing the completion of the project on their website, the group acknowledged that, according to mainstream science, the thylacine is an extinct animal and, presumably, its genetic material is nowhere to be found in the wild. However, they said, "the opportunity to explore DNA from one of Australia's most iconic and sadly lost creatures, sparked the team's curiosity to take this project on. "

By way of previously conducted genetic mapping done on a century-old Tasmanian Tiger pup, the company was able to create a veritable DNA detector, known as a probe, for the creature which can now be used to compare against materials garnered in an eDNA study. Putting their work to the test, the team used a known thylacine hair and were "successful in obtaining a positive signal from DNA extracted from the hair sample using the newly created probe." They went on to explain that "this means that the probe could potentially detect traces of thylacine DNA in the wild, sparkin­­g Moss’ hope of one day finding a living Tasmanian Tiger."

While EviroDNA cautioned that "the probe is yet to be in-field tested and its field sensitivity is difficult to establish," they expressed optimism that it could be used to detect trace materials left behind by a Tasmanian Tiger should one still exist in the wild. The endeavor is not the first time that environmental DNA research has been used to look at a cryptozoological mystery as an exhaustive study was conducted at Loch Ness last summer which ultimately determined that the most likely candidate for the legendary monster said to lurk in its waters is a giant eel.

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