Friday, February 27, 2009

Thylacine mitochondrial genome

Just stumbled across this interesting paper in Genome Research, which documents the mitochondrial genome sequence of the extinct marsupial wolf/Tasmanian tiger/thylacine, but much else besides (human DNA contamination, nuclear genome from thylacine, an impressive microbial metagenome), all from some hairs from museum samples that have not been stored particularly well. 

All this is made possible by the use of so-called "next-generation" or high-throughput sequencing, which is exciting as we here at the University of Birmingham will be getting our HTS instrument soon (in fact, several instruments if the grant proposal I sweated blood to get in earlier this week is successful). 

It is a little frustrating that the authors don't provide chapter and verse on how many kits they used and how many sequencing runs they needed to do to get the ~1.1 million reads. But a quick back of envelope calculation suggests that one could replicate their study for around £20-30K today, which is astonishing. They point out in the paper that a full nuclear genome of the thylacine could be achieved for ~$1m, so I guess it is inevitable we will see one within a few more years. 

Sadly, it is very unlikely, despite a few die-hard believers and supposed sightings, that any of us will ever get to see a living thylacine. But if you want a good book to read on the subject, try the excellent Carnivorous Nights by Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson.

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