Similar to a modern-day Jurassic Park, Dallas-based “de-extinction” company Colossal Biosciences is partnering with researchers in Australia to bring back the Tasmanian tiger. The Tasmanian tiger is a dog-like marsupial native to Australia that went extinct in the 1930s. Colossal plans to use stem cells and gene-editing technology to accomplish this feat.
This de-extinction program is just one of the company’s very ambitious projects. Colossal has also pledged to recreate a species similar to the famed woolly mammoth using CRISPR gene-editing technology within the next five years.
Founded last year by Ben Lamm and George Church, Colossal Bioscience aims to secure “purposeful advancements in science” to help solve climate issues. Church is a veteran of the genetic engineering sphere, being a co-creator of the human genome project while at Harvard.
Colossal has allocated $10 million to labs in Melbourne, Australia, for the Tasmanian tiger project. The project’s initial phase is expected to take three years, though it may be 10 years or more before a live Tasmanian tiger, also known as a thylacine, is produced, if at all.
“De-extinction is a fairytale science,” Associate Professor Jeremy Austin from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“There is no evidence that a thylacine could be made via cloning,” said the Hudson Institute’s Professor Alan Trounson. “Them fellas are lost, it seems.”
“I’m not convinced that it can be done with our current knowledge,” said Mike Westerman, a marsupial DNA expert at La Trobe University in Australia.
While some scientists are doubtful about the science behind the project, Colossal is sure that the goal of resurrecting the thylacine will be met. “We will bring something back, 100 percent,” said Professor Andrew Pask, leader of the Melbourne lab.
“I would say our success chances are 100 percent because we have all the technologies. It’s really a function of focus and funding,” said Lamm.
In years prior, genetic engineers had failed to make complete genomes of once-extinct creatures. However, with advancements in genome technology, Colossal labs say they have a 95% completed genome replica of a Tasmanian tiger. They say they would complete the genome by combining thylacine DNA with DNA from another marsupial.
This completed genome would be inserted into a stem cell, turning into an embryo that must be meticulously cared for within an artificial womb. Every step would have to be executed perfectly to produce the final product, a baby marsupial almost identical to the earlier thylacine or Tasmanian tiger.
Colossal has not commented on how the thylacine would be raised or whether it would be released into the wild.
The technique for reproducing the woolly mammoth would be much the same as with the thylacine, but woolly mammoth DNA would be added to common elephant stem cells.
Colossal Biosciences predicts the recreated species could play a crucial role in balancing a warming arctic ecosystem. In theory, the “Mammoth Steppe” could be revived. Woolly mammoths could help transform the Siberian tundra from soggy wetlands into more carbon-efficient grasslands.