Scientists hope to revive the Tasmanian tiger from extinction

Almost 100 years have passed since the Tasmanian tiger went extinct, but the marsupial could live again.

Earlier this year, scientists from the University of Melbourne set up a research lab dedicated to developing technologies that could bring carnivores back to life. marsupial, officially known as thylacine, which became extinct in the 1930s and reintroduced it to its native Australian island of Tasmania.

Now, with a $ 5 million donation earlier this year and a new partnership with a Texas-based genetic engineering company called Colossal Biosciences, which is also working on a project to recreate the woolly mammoth in an altered form and returning it to the Arctic tundra, scientists are harnessing advances in genetics, ancient DNA recovery and artificial reproduction to bring the animal back to the land of the living.

The project involves several complicated steps, but the scientists say the marsupial can be recreated using stem cells and genetic modification reproductive technology. The team plans to take stem cells from a living marsupial species with similar DNA and turn them into ‘thylacin’ cells to ‘bring back’ the extinct species – or a very close approximation of it – using gene editing technology.

“We are using the latest DNA engineering technologies and developing new technologies for marsupial stem cell derivation and assisted reproductive techniques … We also have a large team of scientists working on solving the problems we encounter along the way,” Professor Andrew Pask, who leads the research at the University of Melbourne, told CBS News.

New marsupial-specific assisted reproductive technologies will be needed to use stem cells to create an embryo, which will require the construction of artificial uteri.

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The team plans to take stem cells from a living marsupial species with similar DNA and turn them into ‘thylacin’ cells to ‘bring back’ the extinct species – or a very close approximation of it – using gene editing technology.

TMAG Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery


“I think we are looking at a decade or so to get the animal back. So, for most of the re-wild efforts of this purpose, you would want to study the animal very closely in large areas of Tasmanian captivity. make sure it’s fit in the ecosystem before releasing them all over the island. It would potentially take another 10 years to make sure we’re doing it as carefully as possible, “Pask said.

Pask says the implications of the technology his team is developing are enormous for preserving the remaining species, as well as for supporting current de-extinction projects.

“The ability to modify marsupial genes opens up possibilities for saving northern quolls from extinction, the ability to generate marsupial stem cells and thus whole animals allows us to think about restoring marsupial species lost in forest fires to their original habitats one once the vegetation has regenerated, “Pask said.

The ultimate goal of this technology is to restore these species to the wild, where they have played absolutely essential roles in the ecosystem, but it should be done with great caution.

“These things are absolutely necessary to protect us from further loss of biodiversity. And then, in addition to marsupials, these technologies could be applied to many other vertebrate species,” Pask said.

The thylacine was Australia’s only marsupial apex predator. About 2,000 years ago, it disappeared from almost everywhere except the island of Tasmania. But when European settlers arrived on the island in the 1800s, they believed that the thylacine, which looks like a dog and has stripes on its back, was a threat to livestock and hunted it to extinction.

The last thylacine living in captivity died from exposure at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1936, just two months after the thylacines were granted protection status, but overhunting, combined with factors as the destruction of the habitat and the introduction of diseases, led to the rapid extinction of the species.

If successful, this initiative would represent an extraordinary achievement for researchers attempting it and mark the first de-extinction event in history, but many outside experts are skeptical of the science behind it and believe there are significant limits to de-extinction. extinction.

“De-extinction is a fairytale science,” Professor Jeremy Austin of the Australian Center for Ancient DNA told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s pretty clear to people like me that the de-extinction of the thylacine or the mammoth is more about media attention for scientists and less about serious science.”

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