Dead Tigers Live

on January 24, 2009
Featured in News to Know

ScienceNOW: “Extinct Tiger Lives On in Close Relative” The Caspian tiger was dead—but now it’s alive?

Okay, so there’s not really any hocus-pocus going on here. The Caspian tiger is thought to have been extinct since 1970, but it seems a “closely related subspecies” is nearly identical.

It was nearly indistinguishable from that of the Siberian tiger.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and the U.S. National Cancer Institute Laboratory of Genomic Diversity collected tissues from 20 preserved museum specimens of the Caspian tiger and sequenced parts of their mitochondrial DNA. Though the Caspian tiger genes were “readily distinguishable” from most other tigers’, it was nearly indistinguishable from that of the Siberian tiger.

For that reason, ScienceNOW reports that “the two subspecies are really one.” The researchers believe the populations diverged within the last century, intermingling until hunters isolated the two groups. The researchers now plan to introduce Siberian tigers to the old Caspian tiger habitat.

The news reminds us that even after centuries of genetic adaptation—where individual populations lose genetic information and “evolve” into unique species—we can still see how they have descended from one created kind, in this case the cat kind. From the members of the cat kind Noah took on board the Ark we have an entire range of often closely related, but still unique, cats today. Hybrids like the liger and the pumapard are an additional reminder of this close relationship. The “evolution” of unique species is actually “devolution”—removing genetic information—from populations descended from the original created kinds.

In a related story, the Mail reports that our ancestors “may have genetically altered the coats of domestic animals for their own amusement.” Novel superficial features such as different colors, bands, and spots may have been preferred for several reasons: not only amusement, but also to help keep track of otherwise hard-to-see animals, or to mark animals with “improved characteristics.”

The research, conducted by University of Durham scientists and published in PLoS Genetics, focused on wild and domestic pigs. While all pigs in the study exhibited some mutations, only domesticated pigs had mutations in a gene called MC1R, one of the genes controlling coat color. In the wild, however, mutations in this gene would have allowed the pigs to be more easily spotted by predators, thus selecting against changes in the gene. On the other hand, layers of MC1R mutations in domesticated pigs showed “that the initial changes had been in existence for a long time.”

For the Mail, the study explains “the evolution in the coat [colors] of all domesticated animals, like cows and dogs” (emphasis added). Actually, the artificial selection for strange colors doesn’t show how, e.g., a dog could evolve into something different; rather, it helps explain why there is such an incredible diversity within the dog kind today—breeders have selected for every strange variation, even those that wouldn’t make it in the wild!

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us.

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