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Image+of+a+juvenile+male+thylacine+at+Hobart+Zoo+taken+by+B+Sheppard+in+1928.+The+animal+died+the+day+after+it+was+photographed.

Photo courtesy of Gary Stock Bridge

Image of a juvenile male thylacine at Hobart Zoo taken by B Sheppard in 1928. The animal died the day after it was photographed.

The End of Extinction?

September 2, 2022

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In 1936, almost 100 years ago, the Tasmanian tiger went extinct.

Today, scientists want to resurrect the striped marsupial. Tasmanian tigers, also known as thylacine, used to roam the Australian bush, until they went virtually extinct about 2,000 years ago. The last thylacine kept in captivity, named Benjamin, died in 1939 due to exposure after being locked outside on a wintry night. While there have been alleged sightings of the marsupial from time to time, they were officially declared extinct in 1980.

Tasmanian tigers played an important role in their ecosystems as the only apex predator, but this also caused them to be unpopular with humans. When Europeans settled in Australia in the early 1800s, they began to blame thylacines for their livestock depletion. As a result, the settlers started to hunt the thylacines to the point of extinction.

Now, scientists want to de-extinct, or resurrect, this species. Their ultimate goal is to return them to the wild so they can resume their essential role in the ecosystems. This project is partnered with Colossal Biosciences, who are working on an equally challenging $15 million project to bring back the wooly mammoth in a modified form.

But how are they going to do it? Andrew Pask, a Professor at the University of Melbourne and the head of its Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research Lab, is leading the initiative. In an interview with CNN, Pask explained that the ambitious project has, “several complicated steps that incorporate cutting-edge science and technology, such as gene editing and building [an] artificial womb.”

First, his team will construct a detailed genome of a thylacine and compare it to a fat-tailed dunnart, which is its closest living relative, to identify the similarities. Then, the team will take living cells from the fat-tailed dunnart and edit the DNA where it differs from the thylacine. Essentially, they’re engineering the fat-tailed dunnart cell to become a Tasmanian tiger cell. Fat-tailed dunnarts are about the size of a mouse, while a Tasmanian tiger is about the size of a coyote. Despite their size differences, scientists don’t think that it’ll affect the outcome.

Once the team has successfully programmed a cell, all they have to do is “turn it back into a living animal,” Pask said. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to get the full genome sequence of the extinct animal, meaning that they won’t be able to perfectly recreate the species.

But is it a good idea to bring them back? In the 1993 film Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm, (Jeff Goldblum) the eccentric mathematician said, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could [resurrect dinosaurs], they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Scientists can de-extinct species. But should they?

Will a group of resurrected animals fare well in today’s world? How could reintroducing them to their former habitat affect the ecosystem? Could it turn into a Jurassic Park situation? As science and engineering for de-extinction continues to grow, these questions will continue to need answers.

 

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About the Contributor
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Sophia Stewart, Journalist

Sophia is in 10th grade and this is her first year in Journalism. She works in catering and plays soccer. She hopes to visit Germany, where she was born.

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