We went on a hunt for the coolest (and spookiest) stories about bringing vulnerable animals back from the brink of extinction or, in some cases, bringing them back from the dead.
De-extincting the Tassie tiger: an Australian Jurassic Park?
In a stunning announcement in March, the University of Melbourne announced it had received $5 million in funding for a new research lab, the Thylacine Integrated Genomics Research Lab (TIGRR), which will primarily look to bring back the extinct thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) using genetic engineering and cloning techniques.
Once abundant in Tasmania, the tigers were hunted to extinction by European settlers who thought they were killing their livestock.
The ambitious new project will take a thylacine genome, salvaged from a preserved specimen, and use it as a map to re-engineer the genome inside a living cell from the creature’s closest living relative, the Dunnart. Then, it will in theory clone a living thylacine from that living cell.
But, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum, is this a case of spending so much time wondering whether they could, they never stopped to think whether they should?
Lost South American wildflower named ‘extinctus’ rediscovered (but still endangered)
In a rare but beautiful case of redemption, the orange tropical wildflower Gasteranthus extinctus, endemic to the Andean foothills in Ecuador, was thought to have gone extinct 40 years ago.
But in a stroke of luck, a team of researchers who set out in hopes of rediscovering the plant managed to find a specimen growing, proving that it’s still clinging on (though still perilously endangered).
“We walked into Centinela thinking it was going to break our heart, and instead we ended up falling in love,” said one of the lead researchers.
Bringing back the iconic woolly mammoth
Back in 2017, scientists from Harvard University stunned the world when they announced plans to bring back the iconic woolly mammoth.
These iconic, massive elephant-like creatures had shaggy fur that helped them brave the frosty wilds of the last Ice Age.
De-extincting the mammoths, the scientists said, would be possible because mammoth DNA remains in frozen carcasses found buried in the permafrost in places like Siberia. They say they’re going to use elephant DNA to help patch up the holes, and create a living mammoth cell, which they will implant into an elephant to carry to term, giving birth to a real life woolly mammoth.
But, why do it? According to Revive and Restore, a genomic research and restoration project, the absence of the woolly mammoths from the tundra stopped the compaction of snow, meaning extreme winter cold didn’t penetrate the soil, leading to the accelerated melting of the permafrost.
So, the theory goes, these new mammoths will help reverse the melting of these ice stores that are full of greenhouse gases.
Bringing back the Christmas Island rat
It might be a slightly less iconic species, but the Christmas Island rat was yet another fatality of European expansion, vanishing from the island 119 years ago because of diseases brought from the strange, foreign land.
This rat still has many living relative species, making it potentially a model species for this kind of de-extinction.