How extinct animals could be brought back from the dead

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Millions of years ago thylacines, also known as Tasmanian tigers, were widespread across Australia. About the size of an American coyote, these dog-like creatures with stripes disappeared from the mainland around 2,000 years ago. They remained in Tasmania until the 1920s when they were slaughtered by European colonizers who saw them as a threat to livestock.

“It was a human-driven extinction – European settlers came to Australia and brutally obliterated this animal,” says Andrew Pask, a geneticist at the University of Melbourne.

Pask is leading a team of scientists who, together with “de-extinction” company Colossal Biosciences, aim to recreate the wolf-like creature and bring it back.

Thanks to recent advances in genetics, namely the advent of gene editing technology Crispr-Cas9, the thylacine is not the only lost species that we could soon see again. How does the science of de-extinction work, and what kinds of ethical questions does it raise? 

In the case of the thylacine, the first step is sequencing the extinct animal’s DNA – the genetic blueprint contained in every single cell of the body. Pask did this in 2017.

“The great thing about the thylacine, is that as it was such an important marsupial every major museum wanted one in their collection, so there are hundreds of samples around the globe, and some are exceptionally preserved,” says Pask.


https://ychef.files.bbci.co.uk/1600x900/p0dw6smv.webpFrom an Australian frog that swallowed its own eggs to woolly mammoths, scientists are getting ever closer to being able to bring long-lost species back from the dead.



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