Scientists in Australia have successfully cloned embryos of a unique but extinct species of frog that gives birth through its mouth.
The subject of this ground-breaking research is the southern gastric-brooding frog, also known as the platypus frog, one of only two known amphibian species that swallows its eggs and broods its young in its stomach. Following this remarkable behaviour, this strange amphibian, once a native of Australia’s rainforests, would then give birth through its mouth.
Unfortunately, this intriguing amphibian species went extinct in 1983, although the reasons for its disappearance remain unclear, with loss of habitat, pollution and parasites all being put forward as possible causes. This new and exciting research by scientists at the University of Newcastle, Australia, has sparked the possibility that this unusual species, once thought lost forever, could exist once again.
The team of researchers on the aptly named ‘Lazarus Project’ were able to recover cell nuclei from samples of frozen frog tissue which had been collected in the 1970s. These nuclei were then implanted into fresh eggs from a related, extant frog species, the great barred frog, after which some of the eggs developed into an early embryo stage. Although none of these embryos survived for longer than a few days, the results are both ground-breaking and encouraging, with the scientists believing that this research could eventually lead to the resurrection of the extinct frog.
“We are watching Lazarus arise from the dead, step by exciting step,” said University of New South Wales Professor Mike Archer, leader of the Lazarus Project. “We’ve reactivated dead cells into living ones and revived the extinct frog’s genome in the process. Now we have fresh cryo-preserved cells of the extinct frog to use in future cloning experiments.”
Archer and his team are confident that the hurdles faced by the Lazarus Project are technological and not biological, and that the project will ultimately be successful.
“Importantly, we’ve demonstrated already the great promise this technology has as a conservation tool when hundreds of the world’s amphibian species are in catastrophic decline,” he said.
While bringing a biological curiosity back to life would, in itself, be a remarkable and exciting achievement, the work being carried out may also have wider-reaching implications. The southern gastric-brooding frog’s ability to shut down the secretion of its digestive acids has long fascinated scientists, and further research into this incredible trait could prove useful in developing treatments for gastric ulcers in humans.
The cloning of the southern gastric-brooding frog was announced a few days ago at the TEDx DeExtinction event in Washington, DC, which was attended by researchers from across the globe working towards resurrecting other extinct species including the woolly mammoth, dodo, Cuban red macaw and New Zealand’s giant moa.
Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author