The project involves several complicated steps that incorporate cutting-edge science and technology, such as gene editing and building artificial wombs.
First, the team will construct a detailed genome of the extinct animal and compare it with that of its closest living relative — a mouse-size carnivorous marsupial called the fat-tailed dunnart — to identify the differences.
“We then take living cells from our dunnart and edit their DNA every place where it differs from the thylacine. We are essentially engineering our dunnart cell to become a Tasmanian tiger cell,” Pask explained.
Once the team has successfully programmed a cell, Pask said stem cell and reproductive techniques involving dunnarts as surrogates would “turn that cell back into a living animal.”
“Our ultimate goal with this technology is to restore these species to the wild, where they played absolutely essential roles in the ecosystem. So our ultimate hope is that you would be seeing them in the Tasmanian bushland again one day,” he said. The fat-tailed dunnart is much smaller than an adult Tasmanian tiger, but Pask said that all marsupials give birth to tiny young, sometimes as small as a grain of rice. This means that even a mouse-size marsupial could serve as a surrogate mother for a much larger adult animal like the thylacine, at least in the early stages.
Reintroducing the thylacine to its former habit would have to be done very cautiously, Pask added.