Monday, May 19, 2008

First Step to Reviving Extinct Species

The Tasmanian tiger was the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. Unfortunately, the last known Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in the Hobart Zoo in 1936. Now there is new hope for reviving this lost species. In a feat of science akin to that described in the movie Jurassic Park, Scientists from University of Melbourne and University of Texas have successfully extracted genes from an extinct Tasmanian tiger (thylacine) and cloned it into a mouse.

Andrew Pask and Marilyn Renfree of the University of Melbourne's Department of Zoology and Richard Behringer of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston isolated thylacine DNA from 100 year old ethanol fixed museum specimens. The DNA was then cloned into mouse embryos. The thylacine gene Col2a1 was shown to have a similar function in developing cartilage and bone development as the Col2a1 gene does in the mouse.

"I have no doubt the whole creature could be brought back to life in the future,'' said Dr Pask.

“At a time when extinction rates are increasing at an alarming rate, especially of mammals, this research discovery is critical,” says Professor Marilyn Renfree, Federation Fellow and Laureate Professor in the University of Melbourne’s Department of Zoology, the senior author on the paper. “For those species that have already become extinct, our method shows that access to their genetic biodiversity may not be completely lost.”

The research article appears in PLoS One.

Painting from Lycee Condorcet.


  1. Ummm, you mean largest known carnivorous marsupial, right?

  2. Richard is at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. When you describe his affiliation as the University of Texas, most people will associate that with the one in Austin.

  3. What about genetic diversity in the species that is brought back? Considering the problems facing modern cheetahs due to their excessive inter-relatedness, I've often wondered just how one would be able to successfully revive a species into a stable, breeding population without a huge number of genetic sources for clones.

    Anyway, this is just my idle thought before I head to work for the day. If the research article addresses this, let me know and I'll have a gander when I get home.

  4. The lack of genetic diversity would be an issue. However, it is better than nothing.