UNIVERSITY of Newcastle researchers who revived and reactivated the genome of an extinct frog using cloning technology have been named in Time magazine’s top 25 inventions of the year.
The Lazarus Project – which developed ‘‘de-extinction’’ technology with the potential to resurrect vanished species – was the only Australian invention to crack the global list, which featured mostly technological advances including virtual reality headsets and disaster response robots.
Undertaken in labs at the University of Newcastle, the breakthrough genome technology could herald a new era in global biodiversity and conservation management.
It has already been successfully applied to the gastric brooding frog – a unique species which incubated its young in its stomach and gave birth through its mouth – which became extinct in 1983 and could lead to the revival of the Tasmanian tiger or even dinosaurs.
Project leader and University of Newcastle biology professor Michael Mahony said last night the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) DNA presented bigger challenges than the frog material as the sample was from a specimen stored in alcohol for more than 100 years, so was not in top condition.
However, when posed with the question of a real-life Jurassic Park, he was slightly more optimistic.
‘‘Potentially, if the DNA is still there,’’ he said.
‘‘If you have nuclear material you have something to start with.’’
As well as Professor Mahony, the team included University of Newcastle father-and-son researchers Dr John Clulow and Simon Clulow, who were assisted by cloning specialists Dr Andrew French and Dr Jitong Guo.
It was overseen by paleontologist and University of NSW Professor Mike Archer.
Professor Mahony said the breakthrough could lead to the construction of a genome bank for all of Australia’s native animals, which could be run like an IVF clinic.
Known as somatic cell nuclear transplantation, the cloning technology had never previously been successfully applied to dead tissue.
In repeated experiments over four years, the nuclei of donor eggs from the distantly related great barred frog were inactivated and replaced with dead nuclei from the gastric brooding frog.
The result was eggs spontaneously dividing and growing to early embryo stage.
Although none of the embryos survived beyond a few days, genetic tests confirmed that the dividing cells contain the genetic material from the extinct frog.
Professor Mahony believed that if the team kept working for ‘‘two or three’’ years they could create a living gastric brooding frog.
Professor Mahony said the recognition the research received from Time magazine was ‘‘quite incredible’’.
‘‘To be listed among the world’s top 25 innovations by really one of the only truly international magazines is quite amazing,’’ he said.
TIME MAGAZINE’S TOP 25 INVENTIONS OF 2013
1 Driverless toy car: a racing game in which toy cars drive themselves
2 Gravity lightbox: a structure covered with 196 panels of LED bulbs to simulate the extreme light in outer space for the movie Gravity
3 Alcoholic coffee: a coffee-based beverage that’s about 80 proof, like tequila and vodka
4 Sony’s smart lens: the DSC-QX100 has all the fixings of a high-quality digital camera but clips to your smartphone.
5 The Cronut: made of croissant-style pastry that’s fried like a doughnut, filled with cream and topped with glaze
6 The Mission R: an electric motorcycle that has a top speed of 240km/h and a range of up 225km.
7 The Plus Pool: an Olympic-size pool that will float in New York’s East River – and clean the water at the same time.
8 The Oculus Rift: a virtual-reality headset that puts the gamer inside the game.
9 The edible password pill: consists of a tiny chip powered by stomach acid and that emits a signal that can be detected by your phone or computer, essentially turning your body into a password.
10 The invisible skyscraper: South Korea’s Tower Infinity will use a combination of LEDs and cameras to give the appearance of being invisible to people on the ground.
11 The 3Doodler: a pen that doodles in three dimensions, creating freestanding structures in coloured plastic.
12 Volvo’s solar pavilion: a flexible solar panel that charges your car and folds up to fit in the boot.
13 Artificial memories: MIT scientists were able to make a mouse react as if it had received shocks in one part of its body when it had actually experienced that pain in another.
14 The Amplituhedron: physicists at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton discovered a major shortcut for predicting subatomic-particle collisions.
15 Nest protect smoke alarm: a smoke and carbon monoxide detector that you can silence simply by waving at it and that will text you when its battery is running low.
16 A new atomic clock: 100 times more accurate than the current clock, it will lose only about one second over the lifetime of the universe.
17 The Gravitylight: operated by the weight of a bag of stones, sand or water it could replace kerosene lamps widely used in the developing world.
18 SpaceShipTwo: developed by Virgin, promises to shuttle citizens into space as early as 2014.
19 The gastric-brooding frog
20 The Atlas robot: designed to imitate human rescuers in disaster response and emergency recovery
21 The Argus II: an implanted retina attached to a pair of glasses and a video unit that can restore partial vision to those who have severe retinitis pigmentosa.
22 The X-47B drone: developed by the US Navy and powered by the same jet engine used on fighters it can carry 2040kg of weapons with a greater range.
23 Waterless fracking: Canadian company GasFrac uses gelled liquid petroleum rather than water to frack wells.
24 The artificial pancreas: detects dropping sugar levels and shuts off regular insulin delivery for type 1 diabetics, just like a real pancreas.
25 Rewalk: an exoskeleton that offers movement to paraplegics by anticipating shifts in the user’s balance.
Read the full Time magazine story here