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Tag: christmas island rat

Instead of Bringing Back Dinosaurs, These Scientists are Bringing Back the Extinct Christmas Island Rat

Majestic dinosaurs and mammoths on our planet both underwent extinction millions and millions of years ago. The Christmas Island rat? In 1908. De-extinction techniques, also known as resurrection biology, garnered popularity within the science world in the 1990s. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as, “the process of resurrecting species that have died out or gone extinct.” Here is how these scientists are attempting to bring back a rat species that you have probably never heard of, and what that can mean for the future.

De-extinction using CRISPR gene-editing


File:MaclearsRat-PLoSOne.png - Wikimedia Commons

path of extinction of the Christmas Island rat

The process of de-extinction with the Christmas Island rat is driven by the method of CRISPR gene-editing, which allows for the genome of organisms to be modified, or edited, meaning that an organism’s DNA can be changed by us humans. This allows for genetic material to be added, removed, or modified at specific locations said genome. The idea behind the de-extinction of an animal through CRISPR gene-editing is to take surviving DNA of an extinct species and compare it to the genome of a closely-related modern species, then use CRISPR to edit the modern species’ genome in the places where it differs from the extinct one. The edited cells can then be used to create an embryo implanted in a surrogate host.

CRISPR thought to be “genetic scissors”

Thomas Gilbert, one of the scientists on the team of this project, says old DNA is like a “book that has gone through a shredder”, while the genome of a modern species is like an intact “reference book” that can be used to piece together the fragments of its degraded counterpart.

What is the difference between a genome and a gene?

File:Human genome to genes.png

Gene depicted within genome

Genes, a word you are most likely familiar with, carry the information which determines our traits, or features/characteristics that are passed on to us from our parents. Like chromosomes, genes come in pairs. Each of your parents has two alleles of each of their genes, and each parent passes along just one to make up the genes you have. Genes that are passed on to you determine many of your traits, such as your hair color and skin color. Known dominant traits are dark hair and brown eyes, while known recessive traits are blonde hair and blue or green eyes. If the two alleles that you receive from your parents are the same, you are homozygous for that gene. If the alleles are different, you are heterozygous, but you only express the dominant gene.

Each cell in the human body contains about 25,000 to 35,000 genes, and genes exist in animals and plants as well. Each gene is a small section of DNA within our genomes. That is the link between them, and they are not the same.

Is this possible? Can we really bring back the dead?

Reconstructed image of the extinct woolly mammoth

See, CRISPR gene-editing itself is of great interest for having shown promising results in terms of human disease prevention and treatment for diseases and single-gene disorders such as cystic fibrosishemophilia, and sickle cell disease, and shows promise for more complicated illnesses such as cancer, HIV infection, and mental illness–not so much with de-extinction. Here’s a simple diagram displaying the process.


In this scenario, it is not looking very likely that these rats can come back. Gilbert and his team of 11 other scientists, through extensive processes and attention to small-detail, have in total reconstructed 95% of the Christmas Island rat genome. While 95% may be an A on a test, in regards to genomes, that 5% is crucial. In this case, the missing 5% is linked to the control of smell and immunity, meaning that if we were to bring this animal back, it would lose key functionality. Gilbert says 100% accuracy in genome reconstructing of this species is “never” going to happen.

The success of de-extinction is quite controversial in itself. Restoring extinct species can mean an increase in biodiversity and helping out our ecosystems which are suffering greatly from climate change.  However, research also suggests it can result in biodiversity loss through possibly creating invasive species (yes, I wrote this) or for other reasons.

While the science is interesting, the reality of the unlikeliness of de-extinction becoming a normal and official process is kind of dream-crushing. Who knows, maybe as technology advances, hopefully, we can make all of this happen without harmful side effects, aid our ailing ecosystems, and visit some mammoths on a safari vacation!

Could Christmas Island rats make a comeback? Thanks to CRISPR gene editing, they might!

From climate change to overhunting by humans, there are many factors which contribute to the extinction of species in the animal kingdom. The Christmas Island rat, also known as Maclear’s rat, went extinct a century ago in what is believed to be the first and only case of extinction of a species due to disease. It has always been believed that once a species goes extinct, it is gone for good. That is until recently when scientists began experimenting with “de-extinction” efforts to bring back the Christmas Island rat.

As published March 9 in the science journal, Current Biologya team of paleo geneticists from the University of Copenhagen recently conducted a study into gene sequencing the Christmas Island rat, in order to estimate the possibilities of future gene editing experiments which could bring the species “back to life”. The process of genetic editing for de-extinction efforts, as explained by the research team in their abstract, consists of first identifying the genome of the species and then editing the genes of similar species to make it more similar to that of that extinct one. The team used frozen somatic cells of the extinct rats, cells with a 2n number of chromosomes which are made during the process of mitosis. The team was able to sequence the rats’ genome, aside from some small portions which remain missing. They then had to identify the modern species which they could gene edit. Their findings established that the Christmas Island rat shares around 95% of DNA with the modern Norway brown rat. At this point, it

Now that the rat’s genome has been sequenced to the best of the team’s ability and a similar species has been identified, the gene editing possibilities are endless, especially with CRISPR technologies and techniques. “CRISPR” stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats in DNA sequencing. This system was discovered by a group of scientists, led by Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier. CRISPR uses Cas9, an enzyme which cuts DNA at specified sections as guided by RNA. There are three different types of edits drone with CRISPR technology: disruption, deletion, or correction/insertion. Disruption editing is when the DNA is cut at one point and base pairs are either added or removed to inactivate a gene. Deletion editing is when the DNA is cut at two points and a larger sequence of pairs is removed. Correction/insertion editing is when a new gene is added into a sequence using homology directed repair.

Thomas Gilbert, the lead scientist on the team, says that he would like to conduct CRISPR gene editing experiments on living species of rats before attempting to replicate the DNA of an extinct species. For example, attempting to mutate the DNA of the Norway brown rat into that of the common black rat. Once this experiment is conducted, the possibilities of reviving the Christmas Island rat will be more clear. Until then, we can only hope! Do you think it’s possible to see the Christmas Island rat revived anytime soon?

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