Australian scientists say it may eventually be possible to bring a dinosaur back to life, after a world-first experiment with DNA from the extinct Tasmanian tiger.
DNA from preserved Tasmanian tiger specimens was injected and brought back to life in a mouse embryo in the nine-year experiment conducted by Melbourne University zoologists Andrew Pask and Marilyn Renfree.
The experiment proved the tiger DNA was able to grow cartilage and bone in the mouse, showing the extinct gene could be brought back to life, results published in the international scientific journal PLoS One show today.
Dr Pask said the same technique could now be used with other extinct species such as the dinosaur, mammoth and neanderthal, all of which scientists had large amounts of DNA available.
The suggestion that dinosaurs could be revived from samples of their DNA was popularised by the bestselling book and hit movie Jurassic Park.
He said while the technique could recreate only a single extinct gene, with technology advancing all the time, it could one day be possible to bring whole creatures back to life.
“I have no doubt the whole creature could be brought back to life in the future,” Dr Pask said.
And he said creating combinations such as Pterodactyl wings on mice would also be possible.
“Yes it does, you could look at those combinations,” he said.
In the world-first experiment, DNA was extracted from baby Tasmanian tigers which had been pickled in alcohol at Melbourne’s Museum Victoria for a century.
The tigers were babies in their mothers’ pouches when they were killed and preserved.
Tasmanian tigers have been extinct in the wild for about 100 years, with the last one of its kind dying in captivity in Hobart Zoo in 1936.
The experiment with their DNA was conducted in Houston with University of Texas molecular genetics expert Professor Richard Behringer.
Prof Renfree said the study proved for the first time it was possible to resurrect the function of an extinct gene.
“This study has proved you can use DNA material from extinct animals and see what function they have,” Prof Renfree said.
Prof Pask said as well as paving the way to recreate extinct species in the future, the research could also have potential bio-medical therapeutic outcomes.
“It gives us the ability to unleash the potential of extinct species,” he said.
The experiment linked the tiger’s DNA, the Col2a1 gene with a reporter gene, which showed the embryo’s developing legs and arms.
The scientists said this showed the tiger gene would have a similar function in developing cartilage and bone development as an equivalent mouse gene.
The embryo was not developed into a live mouse, but Dr Pask said the technique could be taken further in the future, similar to the way DNA from still-surviving species was currently used.
“I think people have been introducing new life into mice and genetically modified organisms for a long, long time,” he said.
“The only difference is this animal is extinct.”
But the scientists stressed the ability to resurrect single genes of extinct species did not make the growing number of extinct species any less of a concern.
“Absolutely not,” Prof Renfree said.
“The extinction of species is an enormous scientific concern, particularly in Australia where we have the worst record.”
She said while the research allowed the function of individual genes from extinct species to be revealed, it was still a long way from being able to bring that species back to life.
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