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Austin company trying to bring back the extinct Tasmanian tiger

Updated: Aug 23

Written by: Daniel Gravois

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin-based genetic engineering company said Tuesday it’s trying bring back an Australian animal that went extinct nearly 90 years ago.

Colossal Biosciences said it’s working with the University of Melbourne in Australia to “de-extinct” the thylacine.

The marsupial, commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger, was native to Australia.

According to Colossal’s page on the thylacine, the last wild Tasmanian tiger was killed between 1910 and 1920. It was heavily hunted, because it would eat livestock. The last known thylacine died at an Australian zoo in 1936.

It was known for its 15 to 20 stripes and dog-like skull. It was 20-27 inches high, 39-51 inches long and weighed 35-65 pounds. Like modern kangaroos, it had a pouch where females would carry their young. The thylacine could live up to seven years in the wild and 11 in captivity.

Colossal said in a press release bringing back the thylacine could re-balance the ecosystem on its native continent and the island of Tasmania.

The thylacine hunted non-native animals that preyed on native plant-eaters. When those herbivores disappered, Colossal said, the vegetation changed, “transforming the landscape and creating a vicious cycle of degradation.”

According to Colossal, degradation would include the following:

  • Proliferation of Disease

  • Wildfires

  • Carbon Sequestration

  • Invasive Species

  • Disruption of Biogeochemical Cycles

Colossal plans to use DNA and genetic information to bring the thylacines back.

In March 2022, KXAN and Austin Business Journal covered Colossal’s plan to bring the wholly mammoth back from extinction within the next four to six years. The company said it wants to resurrect the mammoth as a cold-resistant elephant that looks, walks and sounds like a mammoth.

Trying to bring back the woolly mammoth, Austin company goes big on fundraising

According to Austin Business Journal, Colossal Biosciences raised $75 million in its first six months. The company, led by CEO and co-founder Ben Lamm, began in 2021.

ABJ reports Lamm is a multi-time founder who helped start companies like Austin-based Hypergiant, which aims to prepare companies for the future of artificial intelligence. Also on board as co-founder of Colossal is famed geneticist George Church, the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and a pioneer in gene-editing technologies.

Beyond its vision of restoring woolly mammoths to the arctic tundra, Colossal aims to channel its genetic engineering efforts into advancements in human health, food production and environmental impact reduction, among other uses.