Can an extinct species be brought back to life? Scientists are taking a “giant step” in that direction by using gene editing to resurrect the Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial from Australia and the continent’s only marsupial predator. It died out nearly a century ago, driven to extinction by human hunters and the introduction of non-native species to their grassland, wetland and forest habitats.
Researchers from the project, a collaboration between the University of Melbourne and the genetic engineering company Colossal Biosciences in Dallas, suggest that this so-called de-extinction could resettle Tasmanian tigers (Cynocephalus thylacinus) in the wild within a decade, and could help restore balance to Australia’s beleaguered ecosystems where animals once roamed, university officials have said. said in a press release.
However, such efforts also raise questions about prioritizing high-tech solutions to resurrect charismatic animals that humans once exterminated, when hundreds of species are now on the brink of extinction. The Guardian noted.
Related: Stunning colorized images offer a glimpse of the last known Tasmanian tiger
Scientists at the University of Melbourne’s Thylacine Integrated Genomic Restoration Research (TIGRR) laboratory have previously sequenced the thylacine genome from the conserved thylacine DNA and identified which living marsupials are genetically most similar to thylacines, according to the release. Colossal CRISPR gene-editing technology will allow the group to take cells from a closely related species of living marsupial, the fat-tailed dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata), create a model genome, then modify it to produce a thylacine genome and develop viable thylacine embryos.
“With this partnership, I now believe that in ten years time we could have our first living baby thylacine since they were hunted to extinction nearly a century ago,” said Andrew Pask, member of the team, professor of epigenetics at the University of Melbourne. head of the TIGRR lab, said in the statement. “We can now take giant steps to conserve Australia’s endangered marsupials and meet the great challenge of bringing the animals we’ve lost to extinction.”
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Tasmanian tigers, or thylacines, appeared in Australia around 4 million years ago and were once widespread across the continent, according to the australian museum In Sydney. Despite their name, they didn’t look much like tigers; in fact, they were sometimes called “striped long dogs” because of their dog-like heads and distinctly marked hindquarters, depending on the University of Melbourne. Thylacines had short ears and legs and long stiff tails, and they were about the size of an American coyote, standing about 24 inches (60 centimeters) tall and weighing 37 to 44 pounds (17 to 20 kilograms), scientists reported in 2020. in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Thylacines disappeared from most of the Australian mainland around 2,000 years ago, and an estimated population of around 5,000 was found in Tasmania at the time of European settlement in the 1800s, according to the National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra. But by the 1920s, thousands of Tasmanian tigers had been shot by human hunters who mistakenly saw the marsupials as a threat to livestock. The last Tasmanian tiger seen in the wild was killed in 1930, and the last captive specimen – an individual nicknamed “Benjamin” – died at Hobart Zoo in 1936, according to the NMA.
De-Extinction Project researchers say resurrecting Tasmanian tigers would be a conservation success story; not only to restore a species lost to human activity, but also to create a lifeline for vulnerable and endangered species across Australia, “developing gestational and genetic rescue technologies for future conservation efforts marsupials,” Colossal CEO and co-founder Ben Lamm said in a statement.
“With our planet’s biodiversity under threat, we will continue to contribute scientific resources to preserve the species and ecosystems necessary to sustain life,” Lamm said.
Originally posted on Live Science.