A group of scientists would like to bring the Thylacine back to life more than a century after its extinction. US and Australian scientists recently took a major step forward in the marsupial de-extinction program, sequencing the genome of a juvenile specimen and announcing the establishment of a genetic restoration laboratory to attempt to recreate the thylacine and reintroduce it into its own old natural habitat.
The laboratory, activated by the University of Melbourne, will make use of the collaboration of the biotechnology company Colossal Biosciences based in Texas, already active in an equally ambitious, if not bolder, project to bring the woolly mammoth back to life.
Andrew Pask, professor at the University of Melbourne and director of the Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research Lab, leading the initiative, explained: "We strongly argue that, first of all, we need to protect our biodiversity from further extinctions, but unfortunately we are not seeing to a slowdown in species loss.
This technology offers the potential to solve this problem and could be applied in exceptional circumstances where fundamental species have been lost. We then take living cells from our dunnart and modify their DNA at every point where it is different from that of thylacine.We are essentially designing our dunnart cell to become a Tasmanian tiger cell.
Our ultimate goal with this technology is to restore this species to nature, where it played absolutely essential roles in the ecosystem. So our ultimate hope is to one day see the Thylacine roam the Tasmanian bush again.
The reintroduction of species such as these will require the study of the animal and its interaction in the ecosystem for several seasons and in large areas of enclosed land before considering the complete reintroduction.
The technologies we are developing to de-extinguish the thylacine all have immediate benefits for the conservation of marsupial species. To protect them from extinction, frozen tissue samples from living marsupial populations have already been collected in biobanks, although we still lack the technology to create stem cells from these tissues.
But this is a technology that we will be developing as part of this project." The Tasmanian Tiger disappeared about 2000 years ago virtually everywhere in Australia except from the island of Tasmania, where it survived until the 1930s.
Being a super predatory carnivore, that is, at the top of the food chain, it has played a key role in its ecosystem, but this nature has made it unpopular among human beings, in particular among European settlers who have extensively hunted it, considering it a dangerous animal for livestock farming.
This phenomenon, encouraged by the system of bounties on animals killed together with the human invasion of its natural habitat and competition with the dingo, has led the species to extinction. The last known specimen, named Benjamin, died in captivity in 1936 at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania, just days after the species was recognized as protected by the government.