Our very own Professor Michael Mahony attempts the seemingly impossible – to unwind extinction by bringing back to life the Australian gastric brooding frog.
The project was awarded TIME Magazines top 25 best inventions of 2013.
Interest has recently been revitalised on the breakthrough genome technology, due to an ABC documentary starring Professor Mike Mahony and the University of Newcastle Team.
The The Lazarus Project has developed de-extinction technology which will resurrect vanished species and is the only Australian invention named in the global list.
The resurrection of the gastric brooding frog may also have implications for the medical world.
“The gastric brooding frog swallows externally fertilized eggs into its stomach, which then operates as a uterus. No other living creature can do this. This unique ability could help the medical world work out how to manage gastric secretions in the gut,” said Michael Mahony, Project Leader, Professor of Biology at the University of Newcastle and internationally-renowned ‘Frog Whisperer’.
Known as somatic cell nuclear transplantation, the cloning technology had never previously been successfully applied to dead tissue. In repeated experiments over five years, the nuclei of donor eggs from the distantly related Great Barred Frog, Mixophyes fasciolatus, were inactivated and replaced with dead nuclei from the gastric brooding frog which resulted in eggs spontaneously dividing and growing to early embryo stage.
Amazingly, the Lazarus Project team recovered the extinct frog cell nuclei from tissue samples collected in the 1970s and kept for 40 years in a conventional deep freezer.
“The tissue samples we recovered from the last known laboratory to have a colony of these species had not been treated with cryoprotectant, or ‘anti-freeze’ to stop the cells from expanding and becoming damaged during the freezing process. It wasn’t until we looked at the cells under the micro-scope that we could see the cell walls were still intact,” said Professor Mahony.
The research team believes a human spread fungus was the primary cause of extinction.
“If it is clear that we have exterminated a species, we arguably have an obligation to bring it back,” said Professor Mahony.
The frozen specimens were preserved and provided by Professor Mike Tyler, of the
University of Adelaide, who extensively studied both species of gastric-brooding f
rog – R. silus and R. vitellinus – before they vanished in the wild in 1979 and 1985 respectively.
“Recognition by a global publication as prestigious as TIME Magazine is evidence of University of Newcastle researchers driving world-class innovation. As global leaders in their field, they are developing solutions for the world’s most significant problems,” said Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen.
Undertaken in labs at the University of Newcastle, biological work is led by Frog Whisperer, Professor Michael Mahony, along with Mr Simon Clulow and Dr John Clulow, all based at the University of Newcastle, with assistance from cloning specialists Dr Andrew French and Dr Jitong Guo and overseen by paleontologist Professor Mike Archer of the University of New South Wales.
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