Most of us probably thought the first species that would be brought back from extinction would be large, scaly, and wreak havoc on a theme park. While not nearly as intimidating, scientists have revived one of the most interesting amphibians the world has ever seen. Using preserved DNA, researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia have resurrected the gastric-brooding frog (Rheobatrachus silus). The frog was native to small portions of Queensland, and was pushed out of existence by habitat loss, parasites, fungus and invasive weeds back in the 1980’s. Using cloning methods, the animal, which can amazingly incubate eggs in its stomach and give birth through its mouth, may soon be hopping back into the world.
Through the ‘Lazarus Project’, scientists at the University of Newcastle have effectively brought the gastric-brooding frog back from the dead. A process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) was applied to a batch of eggs that had been kept in a freezer over the last 40 years. Biologists deactivated the eggs from the distantly related great-barred frog, and swapped the nuclei with that of the gastric-brooding frog. Some of the resulting eggs began to spontaneously divide, growing into the embryo stage. While none of the embryos survived past a few days, genetic tests confirm that the little balls of life were in fact full of the genetic material from the extinct species.
“We’re increasingly confident that the hurdles ahead are technological and not biological and that we will succeed. Importantly, we’ve demonstrated already the great promise this technology has as a conservation tool when hundreds of the world’s amphibian species are in catastrophic decline.” said leader of the Project team, Professor Mike Archer of the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
The results of the Lazarus Project have yet to be published, but Dr. Archer spoke about his work at the March 15 TEDx DeExtinction event in Washington DC hosted by the Long Now Foundation and the National Geographic Society. While there are some who see this development as a landmark achievement for preservation, others debate the ethical implications of “playing God” with the fate of earth’s organisms. As the technology advances, other species such as the wooly mammoth or Tasmanian tiger may be next on the list for a second chance at life. Is this a step towards undoing damage caused by humans, or science gone awry?
Images via the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and Bob Beale