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Working to Extinguish Extinction

July 11, 2002|MARK SACHS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Years from now, as you're watching the dinosaur races from Hollywood Park on TV while your pet dodo snoozes contentedly at your feet, you might think back to '02 and the band of audacious Aussies who helped make the whole concept of species extinction extinct.

Tonight at 10, you'll meet that group in a Learning Channel special with an unmistakable "Jurassic Park" flavor, except that "End of Extinction: Cloning the Tasmanian Tiger" purports to be science fact, not fiction.

The premise is that the evolutionary biology unit at the Australian Museum has recently overcome a crucial obstacle in its three-year effort to bring back to life the thylacine, a species extinct since 1936.

Heading the effort is the museum's charismatic director, paleontologist Mike Archer, who lays out the details of the effort with such clarity and confidence that one can't help but think he might actually pull this off.

In a nutshell, the research group has extracted DNA from a preserved Tasmanian tiger pup, a striped, wolf-like marsupial that was hunted to extinction. Replication of its DNA has been achieved, and now the task is to copy all the genes of the Tasmanian tiger so they can be used to construct synthetic chromosomes. If successful, the team says new cubs could be created by 2010.

What happens next is anyone's guess.

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