The extinct gastric-brooding frog will be brought back to life, according to a presentation given today at the TEDxDeExtinction conference taking place in Washington under the auspices of National Geographic.
An Australian researcher, Mike Archer of the University of New South Wales, has successfully recovered 30-plus year old DNA from the preserved specimens of the species and cloned the cells to produce an embryo — the first step to cloning a living frog of a species that vanished in 1983.
Only discovered in 1972, the frog’s lifestyle caught the popular imagination when Australian frog expert Mike Tyler reported that the mother frog swallowed the fertilized eggs and carried them in her mouth to incubate them. She wouldn’t eat for up to seven weeks until the babies were big enough to leave the safety of her mouth.
Tyler said in a statement for the Australian government that the extinct frog simply vanished one winter and was never seen again. Science still isn’t sure why the species disappeared.
Archer still hasn’t grown an entire frog from the cells donated to his project by Tyler. However, the fact that he has been able to grow hundreds of embryonic cells from the old DNA suggested that it’s only a matter of time before the project succeeds.
In February, a previous TedxDeExtinction conference met at Harvard Medical School to discuss the possibilities of bringing back the extinct passenger pigeon. The attendees noted that there were many museum specimens that still contain usable DNA. Gene sequencer Beth Shapiro reported that she already had a lot of information about the passenger pigeon genome.
The main objection to that goal is that passenger pigeons are highly social birds that used to travel in flocks of up to 3.5 billion birds blotted the sun out of the sky. How would you provide a social framework for the species if you only recovered a few birds?
Despite the cute factor that comes with the idea of a mother frog carrying the babies carefully in her mouth, the southern gastric brooding frog is not really social. It won’t need a social network, and it shouldn’t provoke some of the other training or ethical challenges that would come with resurrecting a more complex animal.
But if he succeeds, Mike Archer won’t stop with bringing back an extinct frog. His next big dream will be the resurrection of Australia’s extinct Tasmanian tiger.
[photo courtesy Mike Tyler and the Australian Government]