Humans are responsible for just about everything that’s wrong with the Earth right now. No, we weren’t responsible for quicksand and cockroaches, but Cheese Whiz, gun violence, and Uwe Boll? Those are on us. But nobody is going to get rid of guns, Uwe Boll, or Cheese Whiz, because humans aren’t often capable of completely making up for their past mistakes. So what of animals that have gone extinct because of us? Is it our duty to try and bring them back if we can?
Paleontologist Michael Archer thinks so. In fact, he calls it a moral imperative. A professor in the School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia, Archer gave a TED Talk a few months ago (only recently made available online) that focused on the possible resurrection of both the gastric brooding frog and the thylacine, often known as the Tasmanian Tiger. We covered the mindblowing gastric brooding frog a while back, but I was only vaguely familiar with the thylacine. Now that I’ve done a bit of reading up on it, bringing it back from extinction doesn’t sound nearly as scary as it once might have. Just saying, “Look, a Tasmanian tiger!” doesn’t exactly call to mind the softest, most cuddly experience with an animal.
History lesson! The thylacine, a marsupial, existed as far back as 25 million years ago, which we know thanks to fossil records from Australian rainforests, where marsupial lions, carnivorous birds, and kangaroos were also found. They became the victim of tree-climbing crocodiles — referred to as “drop crocs” — and once their population dropped, they then had to compete for survival with newly introduced dingoes. Only Tasmania decided to keep them safe, but the European introduction of sheep into the region disrupted things further. Because of some dog attacks, the thylacines were blamed for sheep deaths and citizens were paid money to slaughter any thylacines they found. And then, in 1936, the last of the animals died out.
Cut to 1990, when Archer found someone with a female thylacine pup preserved in alcohol. At that time, any kind of cloning was laughable, but 10 years later, the Thylacine Project was put into action. DNA was recovered from the sample — made all the more complicated due to careless human handling, leaving human DNA all over it — and in 2008, researcher Andrew Pask successfully spliced the thylacine’s genes into the genome of a mouse, and that mouse’s offspring was indeed full of thylacine genes. Below is a chart of the process necessary to get thylacines back on this planet, for the most part.
Archer’s choice is to use the Tasmanian devil for the process, and he assures that if only the nuclear genes are used, no strange mutants will be birthed, and that the devil would only notice the change due to its baby being a tad different-looking from what it’s used to.
Apparently, people used to keep them as pets illegally, and Archer proposes that they may never have gone extinct if their domestication would have been legalized, and that if they are indeed brought back to life, reintroducing them into the wild wouldn’t be as ecology shattering as it would be for some other creatures. Like the mammoth, for instance. And if we can’t resurrect it, let’s just make it a robot and build a park around it.
And if you want to watch Willem Defoe hunting the last living Tasmanian tiger, check out The Hunter on Netflix.