Australian and American researchers have embarked on a multi-million dollar project to revive the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), also known as the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf.
The last known specimen of this carnivorous marsupial species died in the 1930s.
The team behind the project says it can be regenerated using stem cells and gene editing technology.
However, other experts are skeptical and suggest that extinction is just science fiction.
The thylacine is nicknamed the “Tasmanian tiger” because of the stripes on its back, but it’s actually a marsupial, an Australian mammal that raises its young in a pouch.
A team of Australian and US scientists plan to take stem cells from a living marsupial species with identical DNA, then use gene-editing technology to ‘bring back’ the extinct species – or a very close one.
This would be a significant achievement for researchers trying to achieve this, and would require many scientific breakthroughs.
“I now think we may have our first small living thylacine in ten years since it was hunted to extinction a century ago,” said Professor Andrew Pask, who led the research at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
Tasmanian tiger numbers declined tens of thousands of years ago when humans arrived in Australia, and then again when dingoes – a type of wild dog – appeared.
Eventually, the marsupial roamed freely only on the island of Tasmania, where it was eventually hunted.
The last Tasmanian tiger in captivity died in 1936 at Australia’s Hobart Zoo.
If scientists can bring the animal back to life, it would be the first “extinction” event in history, but many experts outside the project doubt the science behind it.
“De-extinction is fairy tale science,” Jeremy Austin, associate professor at the Australian Center for Ancient DNA, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
According to him, the project is more about “getting media attention for scientists than doing serious science”.
The idea to bring back the Tasmanian tiger has been around for over 20 years.
In 1999, the Australian Museum began moving forward with a cloning program for the animal, and since then several attempts have been made to extract or reconstruct viable DNA from specimens.
This latest project is the result of a joint effort between scientists at the University of Melbourne and Colossal, a Texas-based company in the US.
The US company made headlines last year with its plan to use similar gene-editing technology to bring the woolly mammoth back to life – a technical feat that has yet to be achieved.