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Friday, May 14, 1999 Published at 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK


Tasmanian tiger may growl again

This baby Tasmanian tiger was born 133 years ago

The extinct Tasmanian tiger could be resurrected using cloning technology.

Professor Archer assesses the Tasmanian tiger's prospects
An Australian scientist now believes the audacious plan is possible after discovering a perfectly-preserved specimen in a museum.

The baby tiger, born in 1866, was found in a jar of alcohol at the Australian Museum in Sydney. Alcohol is thought to be a better preservative than formalin, meaning that the specimen's DNA could be used to recreate the marsupial wolf.

[ image: Last Tasmanian tiger was called Benjamin]
Last Tasmanian tiger was called Benjamin
Professor Michael Archer, director of the museum, told the BBC he would not be cloning the animal himself.

"What we have here is the most extraordinary resource that imaginative geneticists will be able to explore," he said.

If undamaged DNA can be recovered it could be inserted into the empty egg of a related, living species. Professor Archer suggests the Tasmanian Devil would be suitable surrogate mother.

The process would be similar to that used to create the cloned sheep, Dolly.

"Many geneticists faced with this same question are giving estimates of between five and fifteen years," said Professor Archer. "Maybe that's optimistic, but I intend to have a pet Tasmanian tiger well before I peg it."

Michael Archer displays the preserved tiger pup
The animal, Thylacinus cynocephalus, once lived in many parts of Australasia but became restricted to Tasmania a few thousand years ago. The last one died in a zoo in 1937. The creature was 150 centimetres (five feet) long.

However, other scientists are sceptical. They believe that the DNA is unlikely to be perfectly preserved and that no living creature is a close enough relative for a surrogate birth to be successful.

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