Scientists Attempt to Pull a Jurassic Park on Extinct Animal

Tasmanian tigers haven't been seen alive since the '30s, but Australians want to change that
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2024 6:30 AM CDT
Scientists Attempt to Pull a Jurassic Park on Extinct Animal
A pair of thylacines, better known as Tasmanian tigers, at a zoo in 1902.   (Wikipedia/Smithsonian)

Australia's thylacine, better known as the Tasmanian tiger, was deemed extinct in 1986, 50 years after the last known living one died in captivity. But the animal means so much to locals that people still spend significant time and money searching for them in the wild. And while there have been thousands of reported sightings, CBS News reports there has been no official confirmation that they are still out there. While these dedicated enthusiasts remain committed to monitoring field cameras and going on expeditions, scientists have another tactic in mind: pulling a Jurassic Park on thylacine by editing the DNA of its closest living relative to birth a new one.

  • De-extinction: Labs seeking to resurrect the thylacine include the University of Melbourne's TIGRR lab, where developmental biologist Andrew Pask raised $15 million for a "de-extinction project." This involves altering similar DNA to match the Tasmanian tiger's genome.
  • An unlikely relative: These apex predators averaged 55 pounds and resembled wolves more than tigers, but they were actually in the marsupial family (think koalas and kangaroos). This makes the fat-tailed dunnart, a mouse-like creature, a top candidate. "We have to start with a living cell, and then engineer our thylacine back into existence," Pask tells CBS. One skeptic, Kris Helgen of the Australian Museum Research Institute, doesn't think the plan is scientifically possible.
  • Breakthrough science: Whether or not the project has a chance, labs have had breakthrough innovations in furthering the field. Last year, researchers from Stockholm University sequenced RNA from a Tasmanian tiger museum specimen, the first time this has successfully been done on an extinct animal, the Wildlife Society reports.
  • What happened to the tiger? Europeans that settled in Australia brought the practice of sheep farming, and per the National Museum Australia, eventually put a bounty on Tasmanian tigers, who they blamed for livestock losses. This practice, along with habitat disruption and new diseases, quickly decimated their population by the 1930s.
(The last known specimen of the tiger was incorrectly labeled in a museum.)

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