The project aims to engineeri a dunnart cell to become a Tasmanian tiger cell before using reproductive techniques to resurrect the animal.
The Tasmanian tiger became extinct nearly 100 years ago but scientists want to resurrect the Australian marsupial. The striped carnivore roamed the Australian bush but the last known Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in 1936. Humans were one of the main causes of the extinction of the animal as they hunted it to the point of extinction after blaming it for livestock losses. An ambitious project now aims to the resurrect the animal using ancient DNA retrieval, artificial reproduction and gene editing, among other things. "We would strongly advocate that first and foremost we need to protect our biodiversity from further extinctions, but unfortunately we are not seeing a slowing down in species loss," said Andrew Pask, a professor at the University of Melbourne and head of its Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research Lab, reported CNN.
Pask is leading the initiative to bring back the Tasmanian tiger, also known as a thylacine. "This technology offers a chance to correct this and could be applied in exceptional circumstances where cornerstone species have been lost," he said. His team will work in collaboration with Colossal Biosciences, founded by tech entrepreneur Ben Lamm and Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church. Lamm and Church already have experience working on a more ambitious $15 million project that involves bringing back the woolly mammoth.
Tasmanian tigers are the size of a coyote and went extinct more than 2,000 years ago everywhere except for the Australian island of Tasmania. The striped marsupial was a key cog in the ecosystem. European settlers lost livestock due to a variety of reasons including feral dogs and human habitat mismanagement, but blamed Tasmanian tigers. This eventually led to humans hunting the shy, seminocturnal Tasmanian tigers to extinction. By the time Tasmanian tigers were declared a protected species, the species had been nearly wiped out.
The last known living thylacine was captured in the hope of saving the species but there were no other thylacine alive. A Tasmanian tiger named Benjamin died from exposure in 1936 at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania. Pask's team aims to construct a detailed genome of the extinct animal and compare it to its nearest living relative and spot the differences. They then plan to edit the genes of the dunnart to resurrect the extinct animal. "We then take living cells from our dunnart and edit their DNA every place where it differs from the thylacine. We are essentially engineering our dunnart cell to become a Tasmanian tiger cell," said Pask. They will create a successfully programmed cell and use reproductive techniques involving dunnarts as surrogates to create the Tasmanian tiger.
"Our ultimate goal with this technology is to restore these species to the wild, where they played absolutely essential roles in the ecosystem. So our ultimate hope is that you would be seeing them in the Tasmanian bushland again one day," he said. Pask also noted that reintroducing the marsupial to its former habitat could be a challenge. "Any release such as this requires studying the animal and its interaction in the ecosystem over many seasons and in large areas of enclosed land before you would consider a complete rewilding," he said. "The technologies we are developing to de-extinct the thylacine all have immediate conservation benefits — right now — to protect marsupial species. Biobanks of frozen tissue from living marsupial populations have been collected to protect against extinction from fires," said Pask.