Bringing extinct species back to life

Bringing extinct species back to life
Prof Archer at Riversleigh, an area of eastern Australia that Unesco says is among the world’s 10 greatest fossil sites.

PROFESSOR MIKE ARCHER

Professor Mike Archer, 68, is an Australian palaeontologist specialising in vertebrates and mammals at the University of New South Wales. He is the leader of the Lazarus Project, an Australian scientific team which is attempting to bring an extinct species back to life.

The team made global headlines earlier this year after revealing it had created cloned embryos containing the DNA of the southern gastric-brooding frog, or Rheobatrachus silus, an Australian creature that was officially declared extinct 30 years ago.

The team used tissue samples from a frog which had been kept in a freezer since the 1970s to implant a "dead" cell nucleus into a fresh egg from a similar frog species. Some of the eggs spontaneously began to divide and grew to early embryo stage - though none of the embryos survived more than a few days.

Prof Archer, whose father was American and mother was Australian, was born in Australia, and grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States. He studied at Princeton and then won a Fulbright scholarship, choosing to study mammals in Australia. He cancelled plans for a PhD at Harvard and instead decided to stay and complete a doctorate at the University of Western Australia.

Prof Archer lives in Sydney. He has been married twice and has four children. He has long been interested in cloning the Australian thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, which went extinct in the 1930s. While serving as the director of the Australian Museum in Sydney from 1999 to 2003, he began a project to clone the tiger.

The project was not pursued by his successor but he has signalled that he hopes to return to the work if the frog cloning is successful.

Q: You are trying to bring extinct creatures back to life. Why?

The Lazarus Project is an attempt to see whether extinction has to be forever. Can we humans undo things that we have unfortunately done, resulting in the extinction of animals? And can we do this with an iconic Australian species? The southern gastric-brooding frog seemed to be the perfect candidate

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