Scientists want to “de-extinct” the Tasmanian tiger, an Australian marsupial that was wiped out by human hunting in 1936.
The project, which is a partnership between Dallas-based Colossal Biosciences and the University of Melbourne, would combine cutting-edge DNA retrieval and artificial reproduction to bring the species back to life.
Colossal Biosciences is the same company that previously announced a $15m plan to “de-extinct” the wooly mammoth.
“We would strongly advocate that first and foremost we need to protect our biodiversity from further extinctions, but unfortunately we are not seeing a slowing down in species loss,” said Andrew Pask, a professor at the University of Melbourne.“This technology offers a chance to correct this and could be applied in exceptional circumstances where cornerstone species have been lost.”
The Tasmanian tiger, which is known by scientists as officially known as a thylacine, disappeared widely everywhere apart from the Australian island around 2,000 years ago.
European settlers there in the 1800s blamed it for killing livestock and hunted it to the point of extinction. The last living tiger, named Benjamin, died at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart in 1936.
Scientists will first build a detailed genome of the thylacine and compare that to its closes living relative, a small marsupial called the fat-tailed dunnart.
“We then take living cells from our dunnart and edit their DNA every place where it differs from the thylacine. We are essentially engineering our dunnart cell to become a Tasmanian tiger cell,” said Mr Pask.
“Our ultimate goal with this technology is to restore these species to the wild, where they played absolutely essential roles in the ecosystem. So our ultimate hope is that you would be seeing them in the Tasmanian bushland again one day.”
The fat-tailed dunnart is the size of a mouse, but scientists say that marsupials all give birth to tiny babies so they could act as surrogate mothers for the thylacine in the early stages.
Thor actor Chris Hemsworth, as well as his brothers Luke, and Liam are all investors in Colossal.
“Our family remains dedicated to supporting conservationist efforts around the world and protecting Australia’s biodiversity is a high priority. The Tassie Tiger’s extinction had a devastating effect on our ecosystem and we are thrilled to support the revolutionary conservation efforts that are being made by Dr Pask and the entire Colossal team,” said Chris Hemsworth in a statement.