Dallas Company Sets Sights on Bringing Back Tasmanian Tigers, Woolly Mammoths

by Lauren Boisvert

Dallas, Texas de-extinction company Colossal Biosciences, which previously planned to bring back woolly mammoths, is now planning to bring back another long-extinct animal: the Tasmanian tiger. Also known as a thylacine, the Tasmanian tiger has been extinct since 1936. It was a marsupial that spanned all over Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania.

It went extinct likely because of hunting and competition for territory with the dingo in Australia. 2,000 years ago, it went extinct everywhere except Tasmania, while the last known thylacine died in Hobart, Australia in 1936. Now, Colossal Biosciences is looking to bring it back.

Ben Lamm, CEO of Colossal Biosciences, is planning two projects aiming to bring back the woolly mammoth and the thylacine. The projects use gene-editing technology in order to bring back extinct species. Think of “Jurassic Park,” only it doesn’t sound as dangerous as bringing a T-Rex into a modern world. Bringing back a thylacine is smaller scale and also potentially possible, though the process is complex and expensive, according to the National Museum in Australia.

“Our goal is to really identify species where de-extinction can help existing degraded ecosystems,” said Lamm, according to Phys.org. “After we got the right infrastructure and people in place to be working on the mammoth, we started to look at other potential species.”

Biologists Look Toward Reviving the Extinct Tasmanian Tiger

Colossal is partnering with the University of Melbourne’s Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research Lab for this project. Andrew Pask is the leading marsupial biologist at the lab and has been studying the thylacine for 15 years.

“We lost this incredibly unique animal that sat right at the top of a food chain,” said Pask. “It does destabilize all the species that sit beneath them in that ecosystem. So there’s already been a lot of ripple effects that have happened as a result of the loss of the thylacine.”

According to biologists, the Tasmanian tiger DNA will potentially be easier to work with than the woolly mammoth, which the team does not have DNA samples of. Because the thylacine lived into the 20th century, there was more of a chance to obtain DNA.

“There’s a lot of really good preserved museum specimens that leave that DNA quite intact,” said Pask, “which makes putting that genome back together a lot easier than for older specimens.”

There’s no official timeline for the Tasmanian tiger project, but the gestational period is speculated to be much easier than the projected period for the mammoth. This means that the thylacine may be one of the first extict animals to be brought back. Pask said bringing back an extinct species could “[change] the way that we think about species management [and] ecosystem management for the whole planet.”

According to Phys.org, Colossal secured $60 million in funding in March, with an additional $75 million coming in to create new technologies and software to further develop species preservation.