Almost 100 years have passed since the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger – but the marsupial may live again.
Earlier this year, scientists at the University of Melbourne set up a research lab dedicated to developing technologies that could bring carnivores back marsupial, officially known as a thylacine, that went extinct in the 1930s and reintroduced it to its Australian 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 toin an altered form and returning it to the Arctic tundra, scientists are using advances in genetics, ancient DNA retrieval and artificial reproduction to return the animal to the land of the living.
The project involves some complicated steps, but scientists say the marsupial can be recreated using stem cells and reproductive gene-editing technology. The team plans to take stem cells from a living marsupial species with similar DNA and turn them into thylacine cells to “bring back” the extinct species – or a very close approximation of it – using editing technology of genes.
“We are using the latest DNA engineering technologies and developing new technology for the derivation of marsupial stem cells and assisted reproduction techniques…We also have a large team of scientists working on the solution and problems that 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 an artificial womb.
“I think we’re looking at a decade or so to reintroduce the animal. Then, for most reintroduction efforts that aim, you’d want to study the animal closely in large captive areas in Tasmania to make sure which is appropriate. back into the ecosystem before we release them across the island. That would take another 10 years to make sure we’re doing this as carefully as possible,” Easter said.
Pask says the implications of the technology his team is developing are huge for conserving the species that remain, as well as supporting current de-extinction projects.
“The ability to modify marsupial genes opens up opportunities to save northern grasslands from extinction, the ability to generate marsupial stem cells and then whole animals allows us to think about restoring marsupial species lost in fires to their original habitats after the vegetation has regenerated.” Easter said.
The ultimate goal of this technology is to return these species to the wild, where they played absolutely essential roles in the ecosystem – but this must be done very carefully.
“These things are critically needed to protect us from further biodiversity loss. And then beyond marsupials, these technologies can be applied to many other vertebrate species,” Pask said.
The thylacine was Australia’s only marsupial apex predator. About 2000 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 the tilakina, which looks like a dog and has stripes all over its back, was a threat to livestock and hunted it to extinction.
The last captive thylacine died on display at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania in 1936, just two months after the thylacine was granted protected status – but overhunting combined with factors such as habitat destruction and disease inserted, led to the rapid one. extinction of species.
If successful, the initiative would represent a remarkable achievement for the researchers attempting it and mark the first extinction event in history – but many outside experts are skeptical of the science behind it and believe that there are significant limitations to extinction.
“Extinction is fabulous science,” Associate Professor Jeremy Austin of the Australian Center for Ancient DNA told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s very clear to people like me that the thylacine or mammoth extinction has more to do with media attention for scientists and less to do with serious science.”