EVOLVING FOR THE FUTURE
In a move that may conjure up fanciful thoughts of a particular Steven Spielberg film, a newly launched bioscience and genetics company with ties to Austin and Dallas is pioneering a plan to ensure the long extinct woolly mammoth will once again trudge through the Arctic tundra. (No need to panic, movie fans, as the furry beast is an herbivore and has no taste for human flesh, lest we forget the lessons learned from Jurassic Park.)
The appropriately named Colossal, which is based across Austin, Dallas, and Boston, has secured $15 million in funding from a variety of sources (including Austin-based Capital Factory and famed self-help guru Tony Robbins) to bring the woolly mammoth back from its roughly 10,000-year extinction.
Colossal, the brainchild of Baylor University grad and tech and software entrepreneur Ben Lamm and George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who has innovated new approaches to gene editing. Their goal is to pioneer animal de-extinction technology to restore lost ecosystems for a healthier planet. And they’re starting by resurrecting the woolly mammoth back to its cold-resistant, curled-tusk, fur-covered glory.
Specifically, Colossal will work to bring to life a cold-resistant elephant-mammoth hybrid with the core biological traits of the woolly mammoth, meaning it will walk, look, and sound like the giant creature, and will be able to inhabit the same ecosystem left abandoned by the woolly mammoth’s extinction.
The company uses breakthrough advances in CRISPR genetic engineering to make such scientific dreams a reality. It’s all in an effort to “rewild lost habitats and help combat the effects of climate change and the loss of biodiversity.” And Colossal notes that its gene-editing process also has the potential to help advance biotechnology products and genomics while also treating diseases. Such technological advancements will also be used to help recover species on the brink of extinction.
“Never before has humanity been able to harness the power of this technology to rebuild ecosystems, heal our Earth, and preserve its future through the repopulation of extinct animals,” Lamm says in a release. “In addition to bringing back ancient extinct species like the woolly mammoth, we will be able to leverage our technologies to help preserve critically endangered species that are on the verge of extinction and restore animals where humankind had a hand in their demise.”
Indeed, Colossal points to a 2019 United Nations report that warned that more than 1 million animal, plant, and fungi species are now threatened with extinction. That situation could domino, leading to the collapse of ecosystems and negatively impacting human health and livelihood.
By resurrecting certain extinct species, Colossal hopes to rewild habitats and revitalize lost ecosystems, thereby creating a healthier planet. To wit, restoring the woolly mammoth can potentially revitalize the Arctic grasslands, which could combat the dire effects of climate change through a variety of properties, including carbon sequestering, methane suppression, and light reflection.
“Technologies discovered in pursuit of this grand vision — a living, walking proxy of a woolly mammoth — could create very significant opportunities in conservation and beyond, not least of which include inspiring public interest in STEM, prompting timely discussions in bioethics, and raising awareness of the vital importance of biodiversity,” Church says.