An American firm working on the recovery of the Tasmanian tiger has taken the unusual step of enlisting social media influencers to promote its research.

The announcement last week that Australian and American scientists had launched a multimillion-dollar project to bring back the thylacine was widely publicized.

The resurrection effort is a joint effort between Colossal Biosciences, a Texas-based biotech firm specializing in ‘extinction’, and researchers at the University of Melbourne.

The ambitious project, which has received mixed reactions from the scientific community, aims to return the carnivorous marsupials to their native Tasmania, where they became extinct in the 1930s.

Several influencers created promotional content for Colossal on Instagram and TikTok using the hashtag #ColossalPartner.

Among them are Kendall Long from the US, a self-described “curiosity buff” and science enthusiast and former contestant on “The Bachelor”; and Laura Wells, Australian presenter.

Nick Uhas, an American TV host with more than 7 million followers on TikTok, previously promoted the firm’s plan to revive the woolly mammoth and return the animal to the arctic tundra.

Professor Christopher Helgen, chief research officer at the Australian Museum, said he was aware of influencers promoting the de-extinction project through Twitter and other online platforms.

Based on the molecular biology of thylacines, Helgen is convinced that the de-extinction project is impossible. “I don’t think it’s possible to reproduce a thylacine in the way described. I feel very strongly that there is no basic science,” he said.

“Some caution is warranted. You’re going to want the peer review and expertise involved in validating the story that’s being told about what the scientists are planning to do,” Helgen said.

“Instead … we’re seeing a very different corporate approach that asks social influencers — who, for example, don’t know too much about marsupial biology but have a large following or science-oriented following — to pump positive media,” he said. “This company makes money from advertising.”

Dr Belinda Barnett, Senior Lecturer in Media at Swinburne University, said: “Although many brands now use influencers, mainly because they are effective in gaining attention and media coverage, this is not a common practice in research.

“A research project doesn’t have to be a brand. You are not trying to sell something. So the fact that this happened should tell us about the culture of research and how competitive funding has become,” she said.

“I can see why Colossal Biosciences might try this; perhaps the media profile will attract more investment.’

Colossal’s investors include the Hemsworth brothers, Paris Hilton, the management firm founded by the Winklevoss twins, and Thomas Tull, the former CEO of Legendary Entertainment.

Paying influencers to advance science is unusual, but not unheard of. Last year, the UK’s Institute of Physics spent “tens of thousands of pounds” on a TikTok social media campaign.

Five TikTokers paid to stand on egg cartons without breaking them, with the goal of “bringing positive messages about physics to more young people,” IOP Nature’s Ray Mitchell said in March.

Colossal Biosciences has been contacted for comment. Professor Andrew Pask of the University of Melbourne, whose lab is collaborating on the thylacine project, was unavailable for comment.

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