Even in the early 1990s, when the first “Jurassic Park” movie appeared, the idea of bringing extinct species back to life did not seem completely absurd.
Attempts – and new series of the film, have not stopped.
The latest project is to bring back the Tasmanian tiger, which disappeared from the face of the earth in the 1930s.
The animal, which is officially called the thylacine, and in our country is also known as the Tasmanian wolf, is the subject of a project by scientists from Australia and an American company that deals with genetic engineering.
The thylacine has legendary status in Australia and Tasmania. The last wild animal is believed to have been killed in 1930, and the last member of the species died in 1936 at Hobart Zoo, Tasmania.
The extinction of the predator, a representative of two-uterine mammals, came about after the animals were mass exterminated by farmers so that they would not hunt their livestock.
Although officially declared extinct, testimonies and even photographs of sightings of thylacines periodically surface, although there is no confirmation that the Tasmanian wolf still exists.
— Colossal Biosciences (@itiscolossal) August 16, 2022
The Thylacine Resurrection Project, which has $10 million in funding, plans to use thylacine DNA from stored samples from deceased animals.
The animal’s genome has already been read by the team of Prof. Andrew Pask from the University of Melbourne. Once they have the DNA “fingerprint”, scientists have the instructions to create a copy of the genome.
It will be combined with stem cells from an existing animal that is a close relative of the Tasmanian wolf. For this purpose, a type of marsupial was chosen, whose DNA must also be fully read.
The differences between the two genomes will then be analysed, and then cells from the marsupial will be taken and, with special gene editing technology, a thylacine cell will be built.
Next comes something scientists think is even more difficult – making an embryo that grows. It will either be implanted in the womb of another amphipod, or it will be raised in an artificial environment.
And then the process must be repeated many times in order to “grow” enough animals to be released into the wild and form a population.
If all goes well, experts expect the first new Tasmanian wolf to appear in the world in 10 years. This would be the first resurrection of an extinct species in history.
However, it will not be the first attempt.
The American genetic engineering company Colossal, which is part of the project, has already become famous with another, even more ambitious idea, announced last year – to return to nature the woolly mammoth, which, unlike the thylacine, disappeared 4,000 years ago .
This makes extracting readable DNA much more difficult.
One mammoth-sized step for species preservation, one giant leap for mankind. Today we announced new funding that will bring us one step closer to reversing the downward trend of ecosystem degradation and loss of biodiversity through cutting edge genetic tools. #ItIsColossal pic.twitter.com/3aI8cqCfpO
— Colossal Biosciences (@itiscolossal) March 9, 2022
If this does happen, the plan is to copy the read genome into the DNA of an Asian elephant, and to “release” the mammoth into the Arctic.
The idea is not new in relation to the Tasmanian wolf itself. Back in 1999, the Australian Museum considered cloning the animal from DNA from preserved samples, but the project was abandoned after a few years due to the poor quality of the genetic material.
However, the current team believes that with new technologies this is not a problem.
The idea, quite expectedly, also met with a lot of skepticism.
“This is fairy tale science,” Prof Jeremy Austin of the Australian Center for Ancient DNA told the Sydney Morning Herald. According to him, it is not so much about serious science as about attracting media attention.
Others believe that the return of species is not the solution to the problem of protecting biological diversity, and others also remind the ethical side of the issue – is it right for animals that lived in other conditions to appear at all. As well as that there is no guarantee that they would survive today.