Scientists are promising to bring the Tasmanian tiger back from extinction

Scientists are promising to bring the Tasmanian tiger back from extinction

The Tasmanian tiger could be reintroduced into the wild within a decade after a US biotech company backed by the Winklevoss twins pledged to recreate the animal almost 90 years after it was declared extinct.

The last thylacine, the official name for the Tasmanian tiger that was the Australian island’s apex predator, died in a Hobart zoo in 1936. The wild population of the large carnivorous marsupial was wiped out by farmers and the local government , which gave a reward. on the animal during the 19th century to protect the sheep.

Unconfirmed sightings of the striped, dog-like creature roaming the Tasmanian wilderness have increased its mythical status and raised hopes that the animal has somehow survived.

“It’s like our Loch Ness monster,” said Andrew Pask, a professor and evolutionary biologist at the University of Melbourne, who heads the Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research – or TIGRR – Lab, which has recreated the thylacine genome. .

Pask’s lab will collaborate with Colossal Biosciences, which was born out of the work of George Church, a Harvard professor who was one of the creators of the Human Genome Project. The company is already working to recreate a woolly mammoth as part of its “de-extinction” plan.

The Dallas-based company has raised $75 million and has been backed by investors including Silicon Valley venture capitalists Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Chris Hemsworth, the actor who plays Marvel’s “Thor.”

The Colossal Biosciences team hopes to convert the gene-editing processes it will use for the thylacine and mammoth to commercial use in humans © John Davidson

Colossal hopes to convert the gene-editing processes it will use for the thylacine and mammoth for commercial use in humans.

Pask said the gene-editing techniques and resources Colossal could bring to the thylacine project would speed up the reconstruction of the animal, which was first raised as a possibility in the 1990s.

“It’s not a question of if, but when it might happen,” he said, predicting that living animals could be created within a decade.

Colossal co-founder Ben Lamm said a thylacine should be easier to recreate than a mammoth because of the higher quality of genetic samples available and the ease with which an embryo, initially the size of a grain of rice in the laboratory using surrogate animals and artificial bags.

“It is quite possible that the thylacine could have been born before the mammoth,” he said.

However, the editing process will be more complex, as the thylacine’s family tree is more complicated than the mammoth’s. The canine appearance of the animal is deceptive as it is a marsupial. Its closest relative is a small mouse-like creature called the fat-tailed dunnart, which could turn out to be the unlikely replacement for the Tasmanian tiger revival.

Pask said technical work to recover the thylacine would also help protect against extinctions of other animals caused by natural disasters, such as wildfires or climate change at a time when even the koala has been put on the endangered list.

“The biobank is happening, but we don’t have the technology to regenerate species. This project can provide that. We could recreate 100 koalas or quolls [a carnivorous marsupial] in the lab,” he said.

Euan Ritchie, a professor of ecology at Melbourne’s Deakin University, said recreating a thylacine would be a “massive scientific achievement”.

But he remained skeptical about the challenge of not just recreating an extinct animal, but re-establishing a functional population that could sustain itself. “If we can’t, you’ll have to ask why we’re doing this. It gets a little similar Jurassic ParkRitchie said.

He added that the emphasis should be on the conservation of endangered animals. “It’s much cheaper and more effective to keep them alive than to resuscitate populations from the freezer,” he said.

The potential reintroduction of thylacines to Tasmania, however, has not been universally welcomed. According to Pask, some sheep farmers have already expressed their concerns. But he added: “They don’t even eat sheep.”

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