Tasmanian tiger can be cloned but not its behaviour

The experts are going to clone the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacine). They are convinced that they can do it using Crispr gene-editing. In layperson’s terms and employing a very general description; firstly, they’re going to produce the complete genetic code for the Tasmanian tiger. Then they are going to use what genetic material that they have of the Tasmanian tiger from a century-old Tasmanian tiger cub. They plan to take the useful bits of DNA from this old Tasmanian tiger specimen, in a jar on a shelf somewhere, and take the bits of DNA from a numbat (very similar DNA) that they need and splice them together to make the DNA of the Tasmanian tiger on a chromosome. And then they’re going to insert the Tasmanian tiger chromosomes that they have created into an egg cell with the nucleus removed. This will allow the new DNA to act as the egg’s genetic blueprint.

Thylacine. Montage: messybeast.com.

They say that the numbat is endangered and that their DNA is very, very similar to that of the Tasmanian tiger. They say that as much as 95% of the DNA of both these animals may be identical because they have a common ancestor between 35 and 40 million years ago.

The numbat, noombat, walpurti (Myrmecobius fasciatus). Photo in the public domain.

The person in charge of the project, Professor Pawinder Kaur, the director of DNA Zoo in Perth described the DNA similarities as ‘mindboggling’. She said that the “chromosomes of the two species stack up perfectly”.

The Tasmanian tiger was confirmed extinct in the 1980s, 50 years after the death of the last Tasmanian tiger. His name was Benjamin and he froze to death in a Hobart zoo on September 7, 1936 after he had been locked out of his sheltered sleeping quarters.

The Tasmanian tiger or “Tassie tiger” is a marsupial the size of a wolf which roamed the Australian mainland and beyond millions of years ago. They were wiped out everywhere except for Tasmania about 2000 years ago.

The scientists have thus far completed the first chromosome-length 3D genome map of the numbat.

The big problem now is that although they can create, they think, an exact living copy of the Tasmanian tiger, they cannot do the same with the animal’s character. And as The Sunday Times newspaper states, not everybody is as optimistic about the outcome.

Dr. Bruce Englefield, a prominent conservationist said that it will be impossible to clone behavioural characteristics. Because of this he believes that just because they can clone this animal species it does not mean that they should do it. He is concerned that if you successfully create a cloned Tassie tiger how are they going to survive in the wild? They have no learning. They have no memory in their DNA. Or do they? There’s a moral dimension. Do you should release a cloned Tassie tiger into the wild if you get that far?

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