Earlier this week, work done at the University of Newcastle in Australia ‘revived’ a species of frog that has been extinct since 1983. Using their ‘sophisticated cloning technology’, it is hoped that they will be able to resurrect many other extinct species, such as the Dodo.
The frog that the group, lead by Professor Mike Archer, was working on, was a bizarre species of gastric-brooding frog called Rheobatrachus silus. It’s weird because it is only one of very few animals that gives birth through its mouth. The frog would swallow its own egg, brood its offspring in its stomach, until it is matured enough to ‘be born’.
The group utilized an established method of cloning called somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). They first found an egg from a similar species of frog – the great barred frog, discarded its nuclear content, and then replaced it with the nucleus of the extinct frog. Since the nucleus contains almost all the genetic information, the new chimera will contain all the instructions it needs to make a new frog – the extinct frog.
The nuclei of the extinct frog was preserved inside tissues collected in the 1970s, which was kept in a deep freezer for more than forty years.
The experiment was a moderate success – some of the eggs spontaneously divided and grew into a ball of cells, forming the early embryo. However, none of these eggs survived for more than a few days. So technically, the frog was not revived per se, although the group is confident that it is only a matter of time before it is a success.
“We’re increasingly confident that the hurdles ahead are technological and not biological and that we will succeed” Professor Archer said.
In fact, this project, code named Lazarus, was a collaboration of experts from many different universities in Australia, including the University of New South Wales and Monash University. And they are not alone in this movement to revive lost species.
TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) teamed up with the Long Now Foundation and National Geographic Society, to host a one-day conference, TEDxDeExctinction, on the 15th March, 2013, at the Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, DC. Their aim was even bolder – “reviving extinct species and re-introducing them to the wild.” It brought together geneticists like George Church from Harvard Medical School, conservationists like David Burney, ethicists, biologists and other scientists together to explore this possibility of ‘de-extinction’. Many species were discussed, including the woolly mammoth, dodo, Tasmanian tiger, Cuban red macaw and New Zealand’s giant moa.
The drive behind this movement, which is gaining momentum, is to preserve, and now possibly enhance, the biodiversity of our ecosystem. They hope this movement will also make people more aware of protecting currently endangered species.
Although the paper is not published yet, you can find the press release here.