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08 Sep 1999 AUSTRALIA:

Tiger cloning project begins.

By Keith Tremayne.

Scientists make first steps to bring extinct Tasmanian back to life SYDNEY scientists have begun work to bring back to life the Tasmanian tiger in the world's first attempt at cloning an extinct species. In a trial of what has been relegated to the realms of science fiction, DNA will be extracted from a specimen preserved since 1866. Advanced genetic technology will then be used to clone cells into a surrogate mother, such as its closest living relative - the Tasmanian devil - in much the same way as was done with Dolly the sheep. New South Wales Premier Bob Carr yesterday announced a research fund had been established for the project with the help of the Garvan Institute's genetic facilities. While the prospect of conducting such an experiment has been discussed, it has never reached the stage of being attempted. It has also raised major ethical questions. However, Mr Carr yesterday said the prospect of bringing back one of "God's creatures" destroyed by humans was worthwhile. "This is without doubt the most remarkable announcement I have ever been associated with," he said. "We are entering the sixth great age of extinction and we are seeing biodiversity eliminated before our eyes. We have the prospect of bringing one of God's creatures back to life and I can't think of anything more remarkable." The international scientific community will watch with interest for the possibility of adapting the technology to other species. The project will be loosely based on the cloning method used to make Dolly the sheep. However, instead of extracting DNA, the team, headed by Australian Museum geneticist Don Colgan, will more likely take whole chromosomes containing the DNA from the bottled specimen, a female pup. They believe the DNA may still be intact. The team plans to put the chromosomes into artificial cell membranes and fuse them into tissue culture of the surrogate animal to be cloned into the host. Because the thylacine was a marsupial - it gave birth to undeveloped offspring - the problem of having to use a surrogate of the same species can be eliminated. Any cloned tigers would then be placed in a controlled environment such as an island free of threats. Australian Museum director Mike Archer said the thylacine represented the first extinction of an Australian species. An ancient species dating back to the first marsupials in Australia, it once roamed the country until dingoes, introduced 4000 years ago, relegated its last populations to Tasmania. Europeans wiped it out through hunting until the last one died in Hobart's Beaumaris Zoo in 1936. "This may well be the single most important announcement any of us here today will attend," Professor Archer said. "We played God when we exterminated it. I would like to think by bringing it back we are playing the role of smart humans." A time-frame was not put on the project. However, it took 277 attempts before a live birth was secured during the Dolly the sheep experiments.