You’ve heard of startups building computer chips, delivery drones and social networks. One called Colossal has a very different goal: bringing the woolly mammoth back from extinction by 2027 using CRISPR, a revolutionary gene editing technology. Colossal’s co-founders are Chief Executive Ben Lamm, who started five companies before this, and George Church, a Harvard Medical School professor with deep CRISPR expertise.
Colossal’s co-founders are Chief Executive Ben Lamm, who started five companies before this, and George Church, a Harvard Medical School professor with deep CRISPR expertise.
Colossal has raised $15 million so far, led by investment firm Tulco. The startup’s 19 employees work at its Dallas headquarters and in offices in Boston and Austin, Texas, and it’s using its funds to hire more.
The mammoths are one of the extinct animals that were best preserved throughout history. This is because we have generally found them in areas of Siberia where they have remained frozen in time. Now a group of researchers wants to take the next step: take advantage of genetic engineering to resurrect the mammoth from extinction.
The last mammoths were extinct around 4,000 years ago. Where they last lived was in the north of the globe, around the Arctic Circle. Resurrecting the mammoth would mean demonstrating the capabilities of genetic engineering to conserve extinct or endangered species. The mammoth genome is already sequenced we managed to fully sequence it in 2015 and since then, related advances did not stop emerging.
CRISPR as a tool for resurrection and preservation
CRISPR technology, which has been so revolutionary in biology in recent years, makes it possible to modify the genome of a living being by extracting parts of the DNA and then inserting them elsewhere. With this idea in mind, part of a mammoth’s DNA could be extracted and inserted into elephants. The result, they hope, is a hybrid between the two species with sufficient capacities to survive in environments such as the Arctic.
Unlike Jurassic Park, the goal here is not to put on a show with an extinct species. According to researchers at Colossal (the startup behind this), they seek to resurrect the mammoth to repopulate areas of the planet where they previously lived and which are now abandoned.
Likewise, the same CRISPR techniques could be used in the future to stabilize threatened species that haven’t gone extinct yet. By editing DNA, it would be possible to offer certain species better characteristics that help them survive and adapt to the living conditions of their environment. At the moment Colossal has $ 15 million raised to do so, and a few years of research ahead of us before we see a mammoth and elephant hybrid roaming the Arctic.