New step to cloning of extinct predator

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 12:00am

A bid to clone the extinct Tasmanian tiger has moved a step closer with the successful extraction of DNA from a tooth and a small piece of bone belonging to two preserved animals.

The latest success is part of an ongoing project by scientists at the Australian Museum in Sydney to bring the Tasmanian tiger, which has been extinct since 1936, back to life.

The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was the world's largest carnivorous marsupial, a wolf-like creature with a large head and a slim, striped body.

Last year the museum extracted DNA from a Tasmanian tiger pup which had been preserved in ethanol for 134 years.

But scientists say the DNA recently extracted from a tooth and part of a femur is of much higher quality.

The tooth and shard of leg bone were crushed in an ordinary coffee grinder and treated with enzymes and other chemicals to remove everything except the animal's genetic material.

The Australian Museum's team now faces uncharted scientific waters as they try to bring an extinct animal back from the dead. First the animal's genome would have to be mapped, then its chromosomes reconstructed, both immensely complex challenges.

Some scientists say it is impossible. Dr Tim Flannery, director of the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, writes in a new book, A Gap in Nature: 'For all the talk of bringing back extinct species using DNA, such 'resurrections' are not possible once an entire species has been lost.' Other experts say the project is dubious on moral and financial grounds.