A team of scientists and businessmen launched a new company to genetically revive the woolly mammoth, which made it vulnerable to ethical questions, according to the “Al Hurra” website, quoting the New York Times.
The woolly mammoth is an animal that lived during the modern era and a contemporary of man, but the breed disappeared about ten thousand years ago. The closest surviving species closely related to it is the Asian elephant.
The new company, called Colossal, aims to genetically revive thousands of this huge animal, thousands of years after its extinction.
For eight years, Harvard Medical School biologist George Church has led a small team of researchers to develop the tools needed to revive mammoths, and describes the start-up of the company as “a milestone that will make a huge difference to the world”.
The company, which received $15 million in seed funding, will support research in Dr. Church’s lab and conduct experiments in its own labs in Boston and Dallas.
Former researcher in Dr. Church’s lab, Iriona Hesoli, will oversee the new company’s efforts to modify the DNA of the Asian elephant, adding genes for mammoth traits such as thick hair and thick fat to withstand cold.
The researchers at the new company hope to produce embryos from these mammoth-like elephants within a few years, and eventually to produce entire groups of animals.
And if Colossal manages to produce mammoth-like elephants, the company will face serious ethical questions, whether it is humane to produce an animal whose biology we know so little about, and who decides whether the animal can be left free.
“There are a lot of problems everyone will run into along the way,” says Beth Shapiro, a paleontologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of “How to Clone a Mammoth.”
In contrast, other researchers are deeply skeptical that Colossal will accomplish such a monumental feat.
The idea behind “Colossal” first came into public opinion in 2013, when team captain Church painted it in an interview with the National Geographic Society, according to the newspaper.
The “New York Times” notes that “researchers at the time, were learning how to reconstruct DNA in extinct species from their fossils. Now it is possible to identify the genetic differences that distinguish ancient species away from their modern cousins, and begin to discover how they led These differences in their DNA lead to differences in their bodies.”
Church, famous for inventing ways to read and edit DNA, wondered if he could effectively revive extinct species by rewriting the genes of a surviving relative.
Because Asian elephants and mammoths share a common ancestor that lived about six million years ago, Church thinks it may be possible to modify the elephant’s DNA to produce something that looks and behaves like a mammoth.
In addition to his scientific curiosity, Church believes that reviving the mammoth could help the environment, by preventing the melting of snow in places like Siberia where they lived, and preventing the erosion of grasslands.
Some scientists believe that the woolly mammoth was the engineer of the ecosystem, and that it may be the solution to the problem of increasing heat in our planet today, as it was preventing trees from spreading by destroying them, as well as breaking up the algae, which allowed weeds to grow more.
The newspaper says that the initial funding for the company came from investors such as “Climat Capital”, a private equity firm that supports efforts to reduce carbon emissions, in addition to the company of the American investor Cameron Winklevoss.
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