Research, Technology

Scientists to "revive" the Tasmanian tiger to restore its ecosystem

Recently, scientists have puzzled overhow to restore damaged ecosystems. The fact is that the extinction of some species over time endangers the survival of other species. To counter this, scientists offer a variety of solutions, some of which look very radical and even fantastic. For example, work is underway to “revive” extinct animal species and return them to the wild. According to experts, they played an important ecological role in their habitats. In addition, these same technologies will help save species that are now endangered. Someone might think that this is a matter of the distant future, but in fact, scientists have already managed to get pretty close to realizing this idea.

Scientists want to 'resurrect' the Tasmanian tiger that went extinct in 1936

Content

  • 1 How scientists will “revive” extinct animals
  • 2 Why “resurrect” the Tasmanian tiger
  • 3 Can scientists bring the thylacine back into the wild?
  • 4 When will the first artificial thylacine appear?

How scientists bring extinct animals to life

The idea of ​​"resurrection" of animals that have become extinctmany years ago, no longer new. Earlier we said that scientists are working on the “resurrection” of the mammoth. As planned, mammoths should populate the Arctic and restore pastures. Thus, scientists want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, and thereby slow down the process of global warming.

However, lab-created animals will notquite those species that died out many years ago, but their hybrids. The essence of the technology is that the genome of the closest relative that currently lives on Earth will be used as a template.

George Church, genetic scientist, founder of Colossal

For example, to “revive” a mammoth, the basisis the DNA of the Asian elephant, the similarity of which is 99%. The remaining 1% will be fixed by genetic engineering. Of course, you must first obtain the DNA of an extinct animal and decipher it.

The idea belongs to Harvard geneticist GeorgeChurch. Not so long ago, he co-founded the bioscience company Colossal, which is currently engaged in deciphering DNA and restoring extinct species.

Why “resurrect” the Tasmanian tiger

Tasmanian tiger, aka Tasmanian wolf, akaThe marsupial wolf, or simply thylacine, is a marsupial animal that lived on Earth from the early Pleistocene era until the 20th century. The animal was nicknamed the Tasmanian tiger for its characteristic striped lower back. However, visually it looked more like a dog with a thick tail.

The thylacine led a midnight lifestyle.It was a predator that probably ambushed medium to small prey. Over the past few thousand years, the Tasmanian tiger has disappeared from New Guinea and the Australian mainland. It is possible that the reason lies in the hunting of people, as well as competition with dingo dogs. At the same time, for hundreds of years, the animal continued to live on the island of Tasmania. The last thylacine is believed to have died in 1936.

After the extinction of the marsupial wolf, the ecosystem in Tasmania was under threat

Scientists involved in the "revival" of the thylacine believe that its return will restore the ecological balance on the island of Tasmania. The main predator, in their opinion, significantly influenced the ecosystem.

The Tasmanian ecosystem is currentlythreatened. The loss of the predator has led to an overabundance of small marsupials such as wallabies and Tasmanian pademyns. These animals caused serious damage to the local vegetation, creating ecological instability, which in turn endangered the lives of other herbivores.

Can scientists bring the thylacine back into the wild?

Colossal recently announced thatis collaborating with a team of researchers from the University of Melbourne to "resurrect" the Tasmanian tiger. According to the head of the thylacine recovery laboratory at the University of Melbourne, Andrew Pasca, the work has been going on for about 10 years.

The closest living relative of thylacineis a marsupial insectivore living in Western Australia - nubat or marsupial anteater, whose genome was taken as a basis. Numbats and thylacines shared a common ancestor around 40–35 million years ago. As a result, the genomes of these two species coincide up to 95 percent. The genomic sequence of numbats was completely deciphered this year.

The marsupial anteater is the closest living relative of the Tasmanian tiger.

With the help of gene editing technology, suchlike CRISPR, nubat DNA can be altered to match that of the extinct thylacine. It was first sequenced in 2017 using museum samples.

“We are very good at synthesizing large DNA fragments, so we are now genetically modifying a living zumbat cell to turn it into a thylacine genome,” says Andrew Pask.

However, not all scientists are optimistic about thisproject. The fact is that the available thylacine genome is fragmented, and filling in some of the gaps remains a challenge. In addition, the thylacine is quite different from the marsupial anteater. Therefore, genetic engineering of the thylacine may be more challenging than, for example, the woolly mammoth, which is only marginally different from the Asian elephant.

But, even if these genetic engineering problems can beovercome, "reviving" the animal will require growing an embryo from a viable cell. The technology to do this for thylacine does not yet exist. Although scientists have already achieved some success in the field of growing artificial embryos.

Photo of the last marsupial wolf on earth

When will the first artificial thylacine appear?

For more than a year, Colossal has been working ontwo different devices for carrying thylacine - an artificial womb to turn the embryo into a fetus, and an artificial pouch to raise a baby in it. So far, none of these devices is ready. Also, surrogate motherhood is being considered as a way to grow an animal from a cage.

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If scientists manage to solve all of the aboveproblems, it will still be years before the first talicin can leave the lab. However, scientists believe that the project could be much faster than the rebirth of the mammoth. It may take less than six years to succeed.