If you think there’s no way to bring back extinct species, Mike Archer will make you think again. Since the successful cloning of “Dolly,” a domestic sheep cloned with the use of adult somatic cells, the horizon has never been brighter for Mike. He has been described as someone who gives his all in each undertaking; no wonder Mike is always discovering new things! Indeed, nothing is impossible when one is fully dedicated. By the looks of their initial findings, despite tight funding, he does not seem far from yet another breakthrough.
But what is it about reviving extinct species that keeps Mike going? Shouldn’t we be focusing on what’s left, other than what has long been gone? Indeed, his studies have been met with criticism by conservative scientists who are more concerned about the living animals left with us. They do not see any point in bringing back the dead, and calls Mike a dreamer for “playing God.”
Mike, on the other hand, sees “de-extinction” as a form of higher science. If we could find a way to bring back long-lost species, then we would not be far from re-populating the Earth with animals that once roamed the forests. Also, those animals, like the gastric-brooding frog, can help contemporary scientists discover mechanisms and other scientific properties which influence their unique type of breeding.
As we advance in knowledge and technology overall, Mike is all for learning as much as he can. One way or another, intelligent human beings will be able to find use for whatever know-how we derive from our surroundings.
Michael Archer was born in Australia to an American father and an Australian mother in 1945. His father, who was a U.S. serviceman, met his mother, a left-wing journalist, in Sidney. Mike was the couple’s firstborn, and was followed by two more boys. He was only one year old when his family decided to move to the United States.
He spent his childhood in the Appalachian Mountains and developed an affinity for nature. He found it much easier to commune with plants and animals than with people. His parents were not popular in the community due to their relatively non-religious views; it was hardly acceptable in a society dominated by religion. This early exposure to religious pomp made Mike uninterested in religious teachings.
He and his brothers did not mingle freely with kids their age. They were considered odd. Not having many playmates, Mike contented himself with books and spending time in the outdoors. His mother indulged her son’s interest in science; she even allowed him to use one of the rooms in their house to keep his findings. Having discovered his passion, Mike knew it was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He was happiest whenever he was with his collections.
His peers thought of him as a geek because he kept to himself and always read science books. When he was 14 years old, he was left out while his whole class went on a trip. He refused to put any religion in his form and did not budge, even when he was told it would cost him the trip.
He was not interested because he had something else in mind. He went to his grandmother in New York City, bringing with him two suitcases full of fossils. But, upon boarding the train, his first itinerary was not his grandmother’s home, but the American Museum of Natural History. He arrived and asked the front desk who was in charge because he wanted to show his fossil finds.
The man he met happened to be the late Norman D. Newell, an esteemed curator of invertebrates. He led Mike to a hallway where they unpacked his fossils, and he helped the boy identify each. That was the beginning of Mike’s frequent visits and his falling in love with museums. His association with Norman also taught him a very important lesson: kids are the best audience. Mike hungered for knowledge, and it was a generous person like Norman who encouraged him to aim for more.
When he was in high school, it was easier for Mike to find like-minded people after the United States revived its love for science following man’s successful landing on the moon.
Mike graduated from Princeton University, where he earned degrees in Biology and Geology in 1967. He also won a Fulbright Scholarship, which enabled him to study at the University of Western Australia, and he completed his Doctorate studies in Zoology after nine years.
One of the highlights of his career was being able to join the Riversleigh World Heritage fossil site in Queensland. He helped his team uncover fossilized animals that eventually totaled over 40,000 and effectively unlocked Australia’s biological history. Heavily influenced by Norman, Mike served as Curator of Mammals at the Queensland Museum from 1972 to 1978. For the following nine years, he served as Research Associate at the Australian Museum. He joined the academe and became one of the most dynamic forces in Australia’s scientific research; he was also made Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of New South Wales from 2004 to 2011.
The “Lazarus Project” and Thylacine De-Extinction
What Mike Archer did that his colleagues were unable to pull off was believe in the impossible and inspire others to do the same. He started the Thylacine project as a way of kick-starting de-extinction initiatives. The “Thylacinus cynocephalus,” commonly known as the Tazmanian Tiger, had become extinct in 1936 as the last of its kind died of neglect at the Hobart Zoo.
What drew Mike to the Thylacine was the inaccurate assumption that the organism was a “pest.” On the contrary, some evidence shows that Thylacines were very tame animals, considering that they once thrived in the wild. So Mike, with his team, obtained DNA and cell samples from the preserved Thylacine pup and conducted experiments by using bacteria and yeast to multiply cells. They then used it in a mouse, which showed traces of Thylacine DNA.
After that undertaking, Mike headed the “Lazarus Project” in the hopes of bringing the extinct gastric brooding frog – “Rheobatrachus silus,” or “R. silus” – back to life. He was especially interested because the R. silus has a unique way of procreating: the female R. silus swallows the tadpoles, which then develop in her stomach. When it’s time to let them go, the mother frog literally vomits them out.
This will be an interesting addition to the already-amazing array of species that are able to survive in today’s millieu. But why de-extinction? He explains:
"Paleontology will be increasingly assisted by new technology such as remote sensing using satellites but still dependent on ARC-funding, expeditions, hard work on the ground and serendipity. While we continue to find dozens of new often extraordinary kinds of extinct animals every year, there will be new ways to analyze these fossils and help reconstruct their life styles and relationships, ancient environments, changing climates and changing fortunes through time. Improvements and new discoveries involving dating technologies will give us ever better understanding about when and how our unique Australian biotas transformed from ancient times to become the way we see them today. I am also convinced that within the next 50 years we will be able to use new technology and new understanding to bring some extinct species back to life." (SOURCE: Australian Academy of Science)
Mike is convinced that there’s more to extinct species than the allure of resurrecting them from the dead. By enabling them to join the animal kingdom once more, he’s hoping to create a more environmentally-conscious generation.
Organizations and Programs Supported
- School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales
- Lazarus Project
- Australian Museum
- Queensland Museum
- Order of Australia
- Australian Academy of Science
- Royal Society of New South Wales
- Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales
- World Academy of Arts & Sciences
- Australian College of Educators
- Australia 21
- Echidna Energy Pty Ltd
- Revive & Restore organization
Awards and Achievements
- 1972-1978: Served as Curator of Mammals at the Queensland Museum
- 1976: Awarded a Ph.D. in Zoology by the University of Western Australia
- 1978-2007: Served as Research Associate at the Australian Museum
- 1982-2007: Recipient of 8 “Gilbert Whitley Awards”
- 1984: Received the Clarke Medal from the Royal Society of New South Wales
- 1986-(present): Named Honorary Associate by the Queensland Museum
- 1987: Received the “Inaugural Queensland Museum Medal for Research”
- 1989: Received the “Australian Heritage Award for Nature Conservation”
- 1990: Received the “Inaugural Eureka Prize for the Promotion of Science”
- 1990: Received the inaugural “IBM Conservation Award for Research”
- 1994: Awarded the “Von Mueller Medal” by ANZAAS
- 1996: Received the “Verco Medal” from the Royal Society of South Australia
- 1998: Named the “Australian Skeptic of the Year”
- 1999-2004: Served as Director of the Australian Museum
- 2002: Became a Fellow at the Australian Academy of Science (FAA)
- 2002: Received the “Dr. Alice Whitley Award for Science Education”
- 2003: Received the “Australian Centennial Medal” from the Federal Government of Australia
- 2004: Received the “T.H. Huxley Award” from the Australian Museum
- 2004-2011: Appointed UNSW Dean of the Faculty of Science
- 2005-(present): Serves as a Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History
- 2006: Awarded the “Medal of the Riversleigh Society”
- 2007: Appointed “Member of the Order of Australia – AM” by the Australian Federal Government
- 2008: Became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), listed among the “Top 100 Most Influential People in Sydney” and awarded Membership of the Australian Institute of Biology
- 2009: Became a Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales (FRSN)
- 2009: Was Inaugural Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales
- 2009-(present): Appointed Adjunct Professor, Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW
- 2009-(present): Appointed Adjunct Professor, Institute of Environmental Studies, UNSW
- 2010: Selected by Director General of the National Library of Australia for “Oral Record of Life History”
- 2011-2016: Serves as Adjunct Professor at Sydney University
- 2012: Received “UNSW Faculty of Science Staff Excellence Award for Best Lecturer”
- 2012: Was Australian Academy of Science Feature Fellow
- FRZSNSW (Fellow of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales)
- FWAAS (Fellow of the World Academy of Arts & Sciences)
- FACE (Fellow of the Australian College of Educators)
- FA21 (Fellow of Australia 21)
- Awarded the “Special Recognition Medal” by the National Museum of Australia
- Produced 265 scientific publications, including 15 books
- Received the “Eureka Prize for the Promotion of Science”
- Named and studied (sometimes with co-authors) more than 120 new species, genera, families and orders of both living and extinct mammals
- Fullbright Scholar
Wikipedia [Mike Archer (paleontologist)]
UNSW (Professor Michael Archer)
The Long Now Foundation (TEDxDeExtinction Speakers)
Lifeboat Foundation (Professor Michael Archer)
TED Speakers (Michael Archer: Paleontologist)
ABC (Tasmanian tiger DNA comes alive in mouse)
The Sydney Morning Herald (Waking the dead)
Australian Academy of Science (Michael Archer)
UNSW Newsroom (The vegetarian dilemma)
Documenting Reality (Tasmanian Tiger: End of Extinction)