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Scientists planning to ‘resurrect’ the extinct Tasmanian Tiger

  • Category
    Ecology and Environment
  • Published
    27th Aug, 2022

Context

Scientists in the US and Australia have embarked on a $15-million project to resurrect the thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger, a marsupial that went extinct in the 1930s, using gene-editing technology.

About

Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger:

  • Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus), the only animal in the Thylacinidae family to survive in modern times, was a marsupial mammal that raises young ones in a pouch.
  • Even though the species earned its nickname Tasmanian Tiger because of the stripes along its back, it was a slow-paced carnivorous that usually hunted alone or in pairs at night.
  • The sharply clawed animal had a dog-like head and ate kangaroos, other marsupials, small rodents, and birds.
  • At one time the Thylacine was widespread over continental Australia, extending north to New Guinea and south to Tasmania.

The resurrection process

  • Even though the last living thylacine died over 86 years ago, many embryos and young specimens of the species have been preserved.
  • For the de-extinction project, the scientists will be using a genome sequenced from a DNA extracted from a 108-year-old specimen held at Australia’s Victoria Museum.
  • De-extinction will not be complete until the success of the rewilding process – reintroducing the animal to its native habitat — which will ‘stabilise the fragile ecosystem of Tasmania.’

Why is it the right choice?

  • The thylacine is a great candidate for de-extinction because it only went extinct in 1936 due to human hunting and the ecosystem we are looking to return it to is still intact.

De-Extinction:

  • De-extinction, or resurrection biology, reverses plant and animal extinctions by creating new versions of previously lost species.
  • Back-breeding, cloning, and genome editing are species restoration methods.
  • The goal is to re-establish dynamic processes that produce healthy ecosystems and restore biodiversity.

How De-extinction Works through Genome Editing?

  • Genome editing technology creates hybrids between living and extinct organisms. 
  • Scientists insert edited DNA from an extinct species into the nucleus of a reproducing cell.
  • They use this technique to resurrect more species, including those whose remains are not well-preserved.
  • Genome editing blends the desired traits that made the species unique with genes from the donor species.
  • That is why the resulting organism is not completely identical to the extinct species but is a hybrid.
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