Visitors are not permitted on the fifth level of George Church’s laboratory at Harvard Medical School. With a straight face, the genetics professor explains, “That’s where the mammoths and Neanderthals reside.” He’s clearly kidding, because there are no Neanderthals. Mammoths? He says he hasn’t decided yet, but it won’t be long.
Church and his colleagues are attempting to achieve what many previously considered to be impossible — and some now think to be impossible: bringing a long-dead species back to life.
If a new biotech startup succeeds, the woolly mammoth might be revived in a few years.
Colossal Biosciences intends to conceive an elephant with a mammoth and elephant cell embryo.
CRISPR gene-editing technique, similar to molecular scissors, may put extinct DNA into the genome of an Asian elephant, allowing it to be resurrected.
Mammoth DNA will be sequenced from tusks, bones, and other preserved body parts discovered in ice to produce a “elephant-mammoth hybrid” with furrier, bigger elephants, smaller ears, and a high-domed skull.
Thousands of alterations to a cell nucleus have already been done; it’s unclear how many more are required to bring the monsters back and enable them to live in the frigid Arctic.
“Never before has mankind been able to harness the potential of this technology to reconstruct ecosystems, heal our planet, and save our planet’s future through the repopulation of extinct creatures,” says Ben Lamm, co-founder of the new business.
Last year, the bioscience firm said that it had so far raised €12.6 million from investors in order to realize the co-goal founder’s of extinction. Billionaire entrepreneurs like PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and the Winklevoss twins are among them.
A novel approach to environmental protection
At the conclusion of the previous “ice age,” woolly mammoths were extinct roughly 4,000 years ago. The team behind Colossal claims that bringing them back is a step toward future technical improvements in environmental conservation.
“Colossal takes the exponential advancement in DNA reading and writing technology and applies it to major ecological conservation and carbon sequestration challenges,” says George Church, a fellow co-founder.
According to the Harvard University geneticist and other proponents of the de-extinction movement, the initiative has the potential to help restore ecosystems and boost biodiversity by combining new discoveries in biology and evolution.
Church has claimed that genetic research may help endangered elephants flourish in various climes by providing them with adequate benefits. In a recent interview, he remarked, “We’d want to see them inhabiting every continent of the earth, except for the two [mammoths didn’t colonize] — Antarctica and Australia.”
“We intend to establish stations distant from human settlements so that [Arctic] elephants may travel freely and thrive.”
What role may mammoths play in mitigating climate change?
Woolly mammoths, according to Colossal, may be capable of revitalizing Arctic meadows.
Without these heavy-footed herbivores, trees, moss, and scrubs may take over too much of the ground, making it difficult for frost to penetrate the soil.
Arctic permafrost is one of the world’s most important topographies, keeping carbon trapped below, yet it has been progressively thawing, accelerating global warming.
Grasslands were encouraged to take over by roaming mammoths, allowing permafrost to sink deeper into the earth. Church believes that herds of ‘Arctic elephants’ can help turn the tide.
In Siberia, an ambitious research effort is underway while they wait for their arrival. The Pleistocene Park is a massive experiment aimed at re-creating the enormous steppe ecosystem that dominated the Arctic 12,000 years ago. Reindeer, moose, and yak, among other herbivores, are now keeping the grasslands low.
The process of extinction is not without its drawbacks.
“Up until this point, the discussion has been on whether or not we can accomplish it. “Now we’re getting to the point where we’re like, ‘Holy crap, we can – so should we?'” asks Douglas McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
McCauley published a de-extinction guideline in 2016, concluding that any large-scale de-extinction effort would be too costly and futile.
Researchers that have challenged the expenses of de-extinction initiatives suggest that the funds would be better spent elsewhere, such as preventing the extinction of today’s flora and animals. Currently, over 30% of trees worldwide are threatened with extinction, and the United Nations has warned that one million species are currently in jeopardy.
There is also some fear that resurrecting ancient creatures might bring undiscovered infections to the surface. Humans and other animals may be infected by these viruses and germs.