Animal extinction is a sad but natural component of the Earth's evolutionary process. Over the last 5 centuries, it is predicted that around 900 species have become extinct - whether as a result of natural causes or human interference. One such animal is the Tasmanian Tiger, which was last seen in the Hobart Zoo in 1936. After years of being hunted by humans, the Thylacinus cynocephalus went extinct. Colossal Biosciences, a company working to "de-extinct" species, have sparked significant debate over their recently announced plans to bring back the Tiger and give it "a second chance at life." Is it possible - and should it be?
Whatever you call it, "this mythically beautiful carnivorous marsupial was a true masterpiece of biological advancement," Colossal Biosciences said in defense of their plans. "Yet, the story of its extinction is a tragedy of human interference and aggression." The Tasmanian Tiger, identified quickly by its unique stripes and abdominal pouch has been referred to as "a dingo with a pouch" and has a similar DNA makeup to a kangaroo.
One of the most critical questions on everyone's minds is whether the Tasmanian Tiger would be able to survive in the world as it is today. Yes, it is known that the animal was overhunted to the point of extinction, but it is additionally believed that the species struggled with a lack of genetic diversity. This research was led by Andrew Pask, a biosciences professor, in 2017. "The population today would be very susceptible to diseases, and would not be very healthy" if it was still around, he warned. Now a part of the Colossal de-extinction project, it must be questioned what has changed. According to Pask, various DNA sources will be included in this plan. The new population will be closely managed and monitored, he insisted.
Rather than cloning, the team plans to create a hybrid animal similar to the Tasmanian tiger in as many ways as possible. Gene editing will then be used to insert bits of recovered thylacine DNA into the genome of a Dasyurid - the animal most closely related to the Tasmanian Tiger. The project has been controversial, with many arguing that the focus should be on the endangered species we currently have, such as the black-footed ferret. Either way, there's little argument that technology may be the only solution to this conservation and biodiversity crisis we are currently facing.