Can an extinct species be brought back to life? Scientists take a ‘giant leap’ in this direction by using gene editing to bring the Tasmanian tiger back to life (Thylacinus cynocephalus), a carnivorous marsupial from Australia and the continent’s only marsupial predator. The animal became extinct nearly a century ago due to overhunting and the introduction of non-native species into their habitats.
Researchers on the project, a collaboration between the University of Melbourne and the genetic engineering company Colossal Biosciences of Dallas, US, suggest they could reintroduce Tasmanian tigers into the wild within a decade, which would help restore balance to Australian ecosystems there where these animals once roamed, university officials said in a statement.
Revival of extinct species is criticized
However, such efforts also raise questions about prioritizing the revival of already extinct animals while hundreds of species are endangered today, according to The Guardian.
Scientists from the Thylacine Integrated Genomic Restoration Research (TIGRR) Lab at the University of Melbourne have already sequenced the genome of the Tasmanian tiger and identified which living marsupials are most genetically similar to it.
The project proposes taking cells from a closely related living species of marsupial (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) to create a Tasmanian tiger genome with the goal of creating and growing viable embryos.
What were tasmanian tigers?
Tasmanian tigers appeared in Australia about 4 million years ago and were once spread across the continent. Despite their name, they looked less like tigers and more like dogs, but their bodies were marked with tiger-like stripes. They had short ears and legs, long, stiff tails, and were about the size of a coyote, standing about 60 centimeters tall and weighing between 17 and 20 kilograms.
Their population has gradually declined over the last 2000 years, but it is estimated that in the 1800s there were still around 5000 specimens. The last Tasmanian tiger seen in the wild was killed in 1930, and the last specimen in captivity – an individual nicknamed “Benjamin” – died in Hobart Zoo in 1936.
“With our planet’s biodiversity at risk, we will continue to contribute scientific resources to the conservation of the species and ecosystems needed to sustain life,” said Ben Lamm, founder of Colossal Biosciences.