Could the Tasmanian Tiger Be Brought Back from Extinction?
It's a sad and sobering fact that many of the world’s magnificent creatures have become extinct over the years. Their extinction can be attributed to various reasons, but scientists are now toying with the notion of bringing some of these animals back into existence through the use of gene-editing technology.
One such animal is the Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial from Australia that went extinct nearly a century ago. The Texas-based genetic engineering company Colossal Biosciences — which is also trying to resurrect the long-extinct woolly mammoth — has teamed up with Australian scientists to bring back the Tasmanian tiger.
In order to achieve the "de-extinction" of the species, scientists will need to take stem cells from the fat-tailed dunnart, a living species that has similar DNA to that of the Tasmanian tiger. Using gene editing technology, the stem cells will be turned into those of the extinct animal. Reproductive technologies will then be used to create an embryo. Ben Lamm, chief executive of Colossal Biosciences, believes that the Tasmanian tiger's de-extinction could be possible in less than six years.
While resurrecting an animal that has been extinct for so long would be a conservation success story, some researchers question the validity of the science behind it. Jeremy Austin, an evolutionary biologist from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA believes that it is more “about media attention for the scientists and less about doing serious science.” Others say that researchers should focus instead on trying to save the countless species that are currently endangered. Anyone who is familiar with the Jurassic Park films also knows that there is a danger in “playing God”. As Dr. Ian Malcolm points out in the original film, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.”
The return of the Tasmanian tiger?
- Tasmanian tigers, also known as thylacines, first appeared in Australia about four million years ago. Despite their name, they resemble dogs with stripes much more than tigers.
- 1930 marked the death of the last Tasmanian tiger seen in the wild. The last one in captivity died in the Hobart Zoo in 1936.
- The idea of bringing back the Tasmanian tiger has been around for years. The Australian Museum actually pursued a project to clone it in 1999.
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