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The tasmanian tiger, Thylacinus cynocephalus, seen here at the Washington DC zoo in 1902, has been extinct since 1936.  (Source: Wikipedia)

The mouse embryo, seen here, is now part thylacine -- it contains thylacine DNA which will effect its muscle and cartilage growth.  (Source: Andrew Pask and Richard Behringer)

Russian researcher Sergei Zimov is building a vast 160 sq km "Pleistocene Park" in northeastern Siberia near Alaska. He hopes to one day populate it with wooly mammoths and sabertooth tigers.  (Source: BBC News)
By injecting DNA sequenced from an extinct species into a mouse embryo, scientist have delivered a proof-of-concept, which could one day lead to full cloning of long-extinct species

Cloning extinct species has been a long standing dream of mankind.  Well, long standing since the 90s at least, when the movie Jurassic Park stole the imagination of audiences worldwide with a fictitious story in which scientists use DNA extracted from long dead dinosaurs to resurrect the beast through cloning (with disastrous results).  Since the movie, cloning science has advanced at a steady pace, and there has been increasing interest within the scientific community in cloning extinct creatures.

While it seems unlikely that dinosaur DNA pristine enough to produce a full genome map would ever be found, it would be reasonably easy to sequence other extinct creatures genomes such as the dodo, Neanderthals, wooly mammoths, and other more recent critters which researchers have recovered soft tissue samples (bone marrow, skin, etc) from.  However, such dreams were often scoffed at and remained the realm of pseudoscience.

They were derided -- until now.  In an exciting, successful new experiment, researchers at the University of Melbourne report that they have taken DNA from the extinct thylacine, commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger, and inserted it into a mouse embryo which continued to grow with the thylacine gene in place.  The process represented the first time DNA from an extinct creature was inserted into an embryo, effectively bringing "back to life" in part the extinct species.

Dr Andrew Pask, who led the research, says the experiment was the first time DNA from an extinct species has been successfully used "to induce a functional response in another living organism".  Professor Marilyn Renfree, a member of the team, states, "For those species that have already become extinct, our method shows that access to their genetic biodiversity may not be completely lost."

The findings of the team will be reported in the international science journal PLoS ONE this week. 

The Tasmanian tiger, whose scientific name is Thylacinus cynocephalus or thylacine for short, is an extinct marsupial from Australia that looked like a wolf.  The last surviving member of the species died in captivity at the Hobart Zoo in 1936.  The gene was extracted from tissue samples of flesh preserved in ethanol, which were donated by the Museum Victoria in Melbourne Australia.  The DNA was verified to be thylacine, and then was injected into the developing mouse embryo.

The gene injected was the thylacine Col2a1 gene, which controls cartilage and bone growth.  The mouse embryo was selected, partially because mice have a similar gene, also labeled Col2a1.

Dean of Science at the University of New South Wales, Mike Archer, is leading a project that aims to fully clone extinct animals, but he warns that success remains far off. He commented on the developments, stating, "The next question then is, well what if you did that with the whole of the DNA of the thylacine?  Could you in fact bring back a thylacine? Technically I think this is pretty difficult at the moment but on the other hand this is one very significant step in that direction and I'm delighted."

Despite the steep challenge, Professor Archer isn't giving up.  He states, "I'm personally convinced this is going to happen. We are working on a number of projects like this. I've got another group working on another extinct Australian animal and we think this is highly probable."

Aside from possibly leading to clones of extinct animals, the breakthrough also may yield scientific gains in biology and medicine.  Professor Richard Behringer, Deputy Head of the Department of Molecular Genetics, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, at the University of Texas, says, "This research has enormous potential for many applications including the development of new biomedicines and gaining a better understanding of the biology of extinct animals."

Several groups are working to make real life Jurassic Park-style exhibits with cloned animals.  Some like a team in Japan are focusing on finding frozen gametes from ice age animals, while others are focusing on more traditional cloning

Perhaps most ambitious is the Pleistocene Park currently being built in northeast Siberia by Sergei Zimov.  Zimov introduced a grassland ecosystem along with 100 large mammals including
reindeer, horses and moose.  He plans on eventually introducing to the park wooly mammoths, extinct saber tooth tigers and prehistoric bears; all cloned of course.  On the possible threat of cloned tigers he states, "OK, so one or two people will be killed, like in India, but far more will die of alcohol in this place than from tigers."

While Zimov and others have thus far not revived any extinct species, advances in cloning may one day make their dreams a reality.  And with the new Australian breakthrough, that day seems to have come much closer.

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What about...
By 325hhee on 5/21/2008 11:42:41 AM , Rating: 2
Cloning living species. As of now, was there really a truly successful clone of an existing species? The sheep that was cloned died much sooner than it should have. And Pandas are on the verge of extinction, they may have 50 yrs left before they're all gone.

While I marvel at these new sciences and discoveries, what about just getting the roots done first before expanding onto other sci-fi tangents? This taz rat tiger, will never be a true taz tiger, we have a chance now to save current species, but there's almost no real progress in it. Going back to Pandas, out of all the Pandas in captivity, none of the off springs have survived. The one that did, and they let into the wild died, because it did not know how to live in the wild, coming from captivity.

As for human cloning. Don't, just don't. There's no need for it, even to clone a historical figure, it won't be the same person, you can't take a dead soul and grab it's brain or memories, and put it into a new body. And those that died centuries ago were geniuses are completely out of touch with today's thinking and probably can not adapt. It's not the movies, one does not come from the past and just adjust, I work with people in their 50's who still don't know how to program a VCR or Tivo.

Human cloning is just not something natural. If I were given a chance to be immortal, or death, I'll chose death, there's no need for me to be alive forever, I welcome it when my time comes, and what's the use of being 100+ yrs old, and have people wipe your behind when you're done doing number 2. If I can't take a shower, use the toilet, or feed myself. Then please, let me die, don't pump me full of meds, just to have me be alive for no useful reason. I can no longer contribute to society, there is no more need for me.

Personally, I hope I go gracefully in my 70's I get bored sitting and watching TV/Movies all day long. There was one period of my life I quit my job, and did nothing for 6 months, after the 2nd month I got bored, parties became monotenous, hanging out with my friends every night in bars got boring, sitting at my computer became unfun. I did everything I wanted outside traveling and seeing the world in those 6 months and well, decided to go back to work. And this was in my mid 20's, so yeah, I had fun, lived it large, but after a while, I just had way too much time on my hands.

RE: What about...
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 5/21/2008 1:02:51 PM , Rating: 2
Really cloning is nothing new. If you except the fact that a clone is not 100% the same creature (different body, different brain, different life). The Bible talks about cloning very early on:
From chapter 2 Genesis:
21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

My understanding is that bone marrow is the best source for DNA. Add to that, Gods understanding of DNA well enough to make a male and clone from him a female. It always amazes me when science and the Bible talk about the same subject, when the Science side finally gets it correct, it always matches the Bible. Bible of course explains things in simplified terms, Moses and the others where just leaders of men not scientist....They would not understand DNA, Molecules, and other things. So, God had to explain it to man as we would explain something complex to a child.

Believe in God and the Bible or not; it is still something you have to think about....

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007
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