Lab takes ‘giant leap’ toward thylacine de-extinction with Colossal genetic engineering technology partnership
A University of Melbourne research lab pursuing the de-extinction of the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) has partnered with a genetic engineering company to accelerate efforts to bring Australia’s only marsupial apex predator back from extinction.
Professor Andrew Pask, leader of the Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research (TIGRR) Lab says the partnership with Dallas-based Colossal Biosciences is the most significant contribution to marsupial conservation research in Australia to date.
The partnership will unlock access to CRISPR DNA editing technology and a consortium of scientists and resources to the thylacine de-extinction effort.
“We can now take the giant leaps to conserve Australia’s threatened marsupials and take on the grand challenge of de-extincting animals we had lost,” Professor Pask said.
“A lot of the challenges with our efforts can be overcome by an army of scientists working on the same problems simultaneously, conducting and collaborating on the many experiments to accelerate discoveries. With this partnership, we will now have the army we need to make this happen.”
Professor Pask said TIGGR will concentrate efforts on establishing the reproductive technologies tailored to Australian marsupials, such as IVF and gestation without a surrogate, as Colossal simultaneously deploy their CRISPR gene editing and computational biology capabilities to reproduce thylacine DNA.
This partnership with Colossal follows a significant philanthropic donation for TIGGR Lab earlier this year for Professor Pask’s plan to de-extinct the thylacine, outlined in Pursuit, that attracted worldwide media interest.
Colossal’s resources and expertise in CRISPR gene editing – the cutting and editing of DNA sequences to produce a genetic code to be developed into living organisms – will be paired with TIGGR’s work sequencing thylacine genome and identifying marsupials with similar DNA to provide living cells and template genome that can then be edited to recreate a thylacine genome.
“The question everyone asks is ‘how long until we see a living thylacine’ – and I’ve previously believed in ten years’ time we would have an edited cell that we could then consider progressing into making into an animal,” Professor Pask said.
“With this partnership, I now believe that in ten years’ time we could have our first living baby thylacine since they were hunted to extinction close to a century ago.”
Colossal co-founder and CEO Ben Lamm said: “We are thrilled to be collaborating with Andrew Pask and the University of Melbourne to restore this amazing animal to Earth while also further developing gestational and genetic rescue technologies for future marsupial conservation efforts.”
Colossal Biosciences uses breakthrough gene-editing technologies to advance wildlife and ecosystem conservation and is also pursuing de-extinction of the woolly mammoth – once the keystone species to the Arctic Tundra.
TIGGR’S partnership with Colossal Biosciences will produce technology and knowledge to also influence the next generation of Australia’s marsupial conservation efforts and combat increasing extinction events caused by invasive species and climate change.
“Our efforts to protect the endangered Northern Quoll – long threatened by the invasive cane toad native to South and Central America - will also be aided by this partnership, as we could produce Northern Quolls with a slight genome-edit making them resistant to cane toads, giving Quolls the same evolutionary benefit of the many South and Central American animals resistant to cane toad-poison,” Professor Pask said.
On the reproductive technology front, Professor Pask said TIGRR lab is also close to producing the first lab-created embryos from Australian marsupial sperm and eggs.
“We are pursuing growing marsupials from conception to birth in a test-tube without a surrogate, which is conceivable given infant marsupials’ short gestation period and their small size.”