After nearly 100 years of extinction, the Tasmanian tiger might live among us once again. At least, that’s what a team of Australian scientists are hoping for as they plan to resurrect the animal.
CNN reports that the University of Melbourne’s Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research Lab is planning to use “advances in genetics, ancient DNA retrieval and artificial reproduction” to bring back the animal that once was native to the Australian bush.
“We would strongly advocate that first and foremost we need to protect our biodiversity from further extinctions, but unfortunately we are not seeing a slowing down in species loss,” said Andrew Pask, a University of Melbourne professor leading the initiative. “This technology offers a chance to correct this and could be applied in exceptional circumstances where cornerstone species have been lost.”
The project involves a multi-step process that combines gene editing and building artificial wombs. The scientists will start with editing a single cell to recreate the animal. The goal is to one day have Tasmanian tigers roaming in the wild again, but the team has a long road ahead of them. Even if they’re able to somehow bring the animal back to life, it will take time to rebuild the population and get them back to the Australian bush.
This isn’t the only team of scientists trying to bring back an extinct animal. Elsewhere in the world, researchers are working on a $15 million project to resurrect woolly mammoths, while another team is bringing pigs back one organ at a time. This has kicked off a major ethics debate: As advances in science allow humanity to question what is possible, we also need to be asking why it’s necessary. Basically, are we playing God?
But those questions don’t seem to be on the mind of scientists. Tom Gilbert, a professor at the University of Copenhagen’s GLOBE Institute who researches how to resurrect extinct rats, is just excited about how cool it is. “To me the real benefit of any de-extinction project such as this is the awesomeness of it,” he said. “Doing it seems very justified to me simply because it will excite people about science, nature, conservation.”
So even though Jurassic Park warned us that meddling with this stuff could lead to disaster for humanity, at least scientists think it’s “awesome.”