Extinction of the Tasmanian tiger is one step closer

A graphical representation of the internal structure of Tasmanian tiger joeys. Credit: TIGGR Laboratory

The University of Melbourne is establishing a world-class research laboratory for marsupial deextinction and conservation science with a $5 million philanthropic gift.

The donation will be used to establish the Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research (TIGRR) Laboratory, led by Professor Andrew Pask, which will develop technologies that could enable the de-extinction of the thylacine (commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger) and provide crucial tools. for the conservation of endangered species.

“Thanks to this generous funding, we are at a turning point where we can develop the technologies to potentially bring a species back from extinction and help save other marsupials on the verge of extinction,” said Professor Pask, from the University School of Biosciences. from Melbourne said.

“Our research proposes nine key steps for thylacine de-extinction. One of our biggest breakthroughs was the sequencing of the thylacine genome, providing a comprehensive blueprint on how to essentially build a thylacine.

“The funding will allow our lab to move forward and focus on three key areas: improving our understanding of the thylacine genome; develop techniques to use marsupial stem cells to make an embryo; then successfully transfer the embryo into a host surrogate, such as a dunnart or Tasmanian devil,” Professor Pask said.

The thylacine, a unique marsupial carnivore also known as the Tasmanian wolf, was once widespread in Australia but was confined to the island of Tasmania by the time Europeans arrived in the 18and century. It was quickly hunted to extinction by settlers, with the last known animal dying in captivity in 1936.

“Of all the species proposed for extirpation, the thylacine has arguably the most compelling case. The Tasmanian habitat has remained largely unchanged, providing the perfect environment for the reintroduction of the thylacine and it is very likely that its reintroduction would be beneficial to the whole ecosystem,” Professor Pask said.

At least 39 species of Australian mammals have gone extinct in the past 200 years, and nine are currently listed as critically endangered and at high risk of extinction.

“The tools and methods that will be developed in the TIGRR Hub will have immediate benefits for marsupial conservation and provide a means to protect diversity and protect against the loss of threatened or endangered species,” said Professor Pascal.

“While our ultimate goal is to bring back the thylacine, we will immediately apply our advances in conservation science, particularly our work in stem cells, gene editing and surrogacy, to help breeding programs in order to prevent other marsupials from suffering the same fate as the Tassie tiger.

The donation comes from the Wilson Family Trust. Mr Russell Wilson said the story of the thylacine and his unceremonious exit from this world really touched his family.

“We came across Prof Pask’s incredible work, believe it or not, via YouTube clips of him talking about his research and his passion for the thylacine and Australian marsupials. We realize that we are on the verge of a major scientific breakthrough through improvements in technology and its application to the genome,” Wilson said.

“The benefits of this open research will be wide and varied.”

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