The Tasmanian tiger has been extinct for nearly a century, but the marsupial may once again exist.
This year, researchers at The University of Melbourne established a lab to explore technology that could restore the thylacine, a carnivorous mammal that became extinct in the 1930s, to its native island of Tasmania.
Now, with a $5 million donation from 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 return it to the Arctic tundra, scientists are using genetics, ancient DNA retrieval, and artificial reproduction to bring the animal back to the living world.
Scientists assert that the marsupial can be rebuilt utilizing stem cells and gene editing reproductive technologies, despite the project’s complexity. Using gene-editing technologies, the team intends to transform stem cells from a live marsupial species with identical DNA into “thylacine” cells to “bring back” the extinct species – or a very near approximation of it.
“We are employing the most cutting-edge DNA engineering techniques and creating novel technology for marsupial stem cell extraction and assisted reproduction approaches…
In addition, we have a large team of scientists trying to solve any issues that arise “Professor Andrew Pask of the University of Melbourne, who is leading the research, told CBS News.
To employ the stem cells to create an embryo, new marsupial-specific assisted reproductive technologies will be required, along with the construction of artificial wombs.
Using gene-editing technologies, the team intends to transform stem cells from a live marsupial species with identical DNA into “thylacine” cells to “bring back” the extinct species – or a very near approximation of it.
The TMAG is the TASMANIAN MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY.
“I believe it will take almost a decade to recover the animal. Then, for the majority of re-wilding projects of this nature, it would be necessary to closely observe the animal in huge captivity areas on Tasmania before releasing it across the entire island. To ensure that this is carried out with the utmost care, it could take up to ten additional years “Pask stated.
Pask states that the consequences of the technology his team is developing are enormous for protecting the remaining species and for supporting existing de-extinction initiatives.
The ability to create marsupial stem cells and eventually complete animals allows us to consider restoring marsupial species lost in bushfires to their native habitats once the vegetation has recovered, according to Pask.
The ultimate goal of this technology is to return these animals to the wild, where they played crucial roles in the ecosystem, but this must be accomplished with extreme caution.
“These items are crucial for preventing further biodiversity loss. In addition to marsupials, these technologies might be extended to a wide variety of other vertebrate species “Pask added.
The thylacine was the sole marsupial top predator in Australia. Approximately 2,000 years ago, it became extinct almost everywhere except Tasmania. But when European settlers came on the island in the 1800s, they believed the dog-like thylacine, which had stripes across its back, was a menace to cattle and hunted it to extinction.
The last thylacine in captivity died of exposure at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania in 1936, just two months after thylacines were granted protected status. However, excessive hunting, along with factors such as habitat destruction and introduced disease, led to the rapid extinction of the species.
If successful, this endeavor would be a great accomplishment for the researchers attempting it and the first de-extinction event in history; nevertheless, many outside experts are suspicious of the science underlying it and believe that de-extinction has serious limitations.
Associate Professor Jeremy Austin of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA told the Sydney Morning Herald that de-extinction is a pseudoscience. “It’s very obvious to me that thylacine and mammoth de-extinction is more about gaining media attention for the experts than conducting genuine science.”