The last woolly mammoths died out about 4,000 years ago, but if the folks at Colossal Biosciences have their way, a calf will be born by 2028.
Scientists at the company aim to rebuild the woolly mammoth genome using samples from unearthed specimens, filling in the gaps with DNA from modern Asian elephants.
They then have to coax woolly mammoth embryos into surrogate elephants and find tribal and governmental partners willing to let the company release – or ‘re-wild’ – woolly mammoths onto their land.
The two species share 99.6 percent of their genome, so this is not as big of a stretch as it may sound.
Colossal CEO and co-founder Ben Lamm told DailyMail.com: ‘It is a very charismatic creature.’
‘We should be so lucky that 10,000 years from now, people love us as much as we love mammoths.’
The last woolly mammoths died out about 4,000 years ago, but if the folks at Colossal Biosciences have their way, a calf will be born by 2028
With permafrost melting in the Arctic Circle, the remains of more and more woolly mammoths are being exposed and excavated, including ones whose skin and fur have clung on for all these years. These specimens provide the necessary genetic material.
After reconstructing the woolly mammoth genetic code, they plan to insert it into donor egg cells from Asian elephants, fertilize the embryos in vitro, and implant them into surrogates.
The first woolly mammoth of the 21st century may be born to an Asian elephant.
Dodos and thylacines (Tasmanian tigers) are also on the list for de-extinction, but the woolly mammoth has been Colossal’s flagship effort.
Eventually, populations of woolly mammoths will make their home on the tundra, said Lamm. And the company is ‘very serious’ about its goals.
Since its launch in 2021, Colossal’s staff has grown to 115 full-time scientists and 60 external collaborators.
Colossal Biosciences was founded in 2021 by entrepreneurs Ben Lamm (left) and George Church (right)
The remains of woolly mammoths, like this one found in Canada in 2022, can help scientists reconstruct the species’ genetic code
According to Lamm, the company has raised $225 million in funding from big-name investors, including Thomas Tull, Tim Draper, and Bob Nelson, as well as the environmental impact investment firms At One Ventures and Climate Capital.
But the company must meet many milestones before woolly mammoths can roam the tundra.
Along the way, Colossal’s investors may reap serious rewards as Lamm and company find profitable uses for the biotech advances they develop to resurrect the woolly mammoth.
‘We think that the long-term potential for not just impact here, but for shareholder appreciation is quite high, given the technology that will come from this,’ said Lamm.
For example, biotech startup Form Bio spun out of Colossal in 2022 and raised over $30 million in funding.
Colossal does plan to give its conservation-specific tools away to nonprofits and governments, though, Lamm said.
Colossal has claimed that the woolly mammoth’s foraging behaviors would nourish tundra grasslands, in turn capturing tons of atmospheric carbon and preserving melting permafrost. Some of their external scientific collaborators have published studies on it, but other scientists have published research concluding that de-extinction efforts are a net loss in the form of lost scientific resources.
‘I’m not against the science of cloning, but I am against trotting it out as a solution to conservation problems or even climate change,’ Joseph Bennett, associate professor of biology and environmental and interdisciplinary science at Carleton University in Ottawa, told DailyMail.com.
‘Unfortunately, that may have a net negative impact, as funding is drawn to risky and inefficient techniques.’
Lamm responded to this point by saying that since Colossal is bringing in private investors, it isn’t taking anything away from scientific grant funding.
The last thylacine – or Tasmanian tiger – died in 1936, but Colossal is working to bring it back, too
Beyond the woolly mammoth, Colossal is also working on bringing back the dodo bird, as well as the thylacine, which was hunted to extinction in the first half of the 20th century.
The thylacine’s demise was based on bad information: Tasmanian farmers believed it was killing their sheep, so the Australian government issued a bounty on the animals.
But the tide has turned in its favor, as scientists and the public better understand the important role apex predators play in preserving the balance of ecosystems. And conversations with local officials, industry groups, and indigenous communities have yielded two potential re-wilding sites, said Lamm.
A recent poll about Colossal’s Tasmanian tiger de-extinction project found that 77 percent of 3,012 respondents answered ‘Yes’ to the question, ‘Should scientists try and bring thylacines back from extinction?’
Lamm said he doesn’t want to convince the remaining 23 percent, but rather hear why they voted ‘No’ (10 percent) or ‘Unsure’ (13 percent).
After all, if they can’t reassure the public that releasing extinct animals back into the wild is going to be safe and effective, then their whole project is dead on arrival. So far, based on meetings with locals, signs are good, said Lamm.
‘Time will tell if those collaborations hold, but early indicators are very positive.’
Source: | This article originally belongs to Daily Mail