Tasmanian tiger could be resurrected thanks to Colossal Biosciences’ $10 million investment in University of Melbourne team

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Each step the team takes would represent a major scientific breakthrough, and Pask and Colossal would have to nail each to produce a living tiger.

First, they need to build a complete genome – likely by combining thylacine DNA with that of the fat-tailed dunnart, a mouse-sized marsupial that is the tiger’s closest living relative. Then they have to get the genome inside a stem cell. Then they have to induce the stem cell to become an embryo, and that embryo has to be nurtured in a womb to become a baby tiger.

Then the tiger must be raised to adulthood – on its own, as the only living example of its species. The tiny dunnart is unlikely to provide much parental support.

Ben Lamm, a tech entrepreneur who co-founded Colossal alongside Church, said the project involved difficult technical challenges, but was not scientifically impossible.

“I would say our chances of success are 100% because we have all the technologies. It’s really a function of focus and funding,” he said.

Lamm’s investors aren’t just here to bring back the thylacine — they want to make money, too. This could come from carbon credits for the use of extinct animals to restore ecosystems, ecotourism or the added value of technologies invented within the framework of the project.

A fat-tailed dunnart at Werribee Zoo.Credit:Healesville Sanctuary

“It’s one of the many ways I think our investors will see a great return,” Lamm said.

A key step in the project is to gain public acceptance of genetically modified wildlife.

To achieve this, the team plans to first work on genetically modify Australian quolls to be resistant to cane toad venom. They could be released into the wild within three years.

Outside experts are skeptical of the Tiger Project’s chances – and whether it should be attempted at all.

Stephen Frankenberg, Axel Newton, Andrew Pask, Brandon Menzies and Jennifer Hutchison are part of the tiger team.

Stephen Frankenberg, Axel Newton, Andrew Pask, Brandon Menzies and Jennifer Hutchison are part of the tiger team.Credit:Eddie Jim

“There is no evidence that a thylacine can be made by cloning,” said Professor Alan Trounson of the Hudson Institute, an early pioneer of stem cells and IVF.

“You couldn’t create one by gene editing either. These guys are lost, it seems.

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Would the public – or farmers – accept genetically modified thylacines roaming the forests of Tasmania?

“I’m not convinced it can be done with our current knowledge,” said Dr. Mike Westerman, a marsupial DNA expert at La Trobe University.

“Where the hell would a self-sustaining population be maintained?”

Liam Mannix’s Examine newsletter explains and analyzes the science with a rigorous focus on the evidence. Sign up to get it every week.

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