The CRISPR startup wants to create a hybrid of mammoth wool by 2027

Colossal wants to help the mammoth recover from extinction.

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You’ve probably heard that startups build computer chips, drone messaging, and social media. The purposes of what is called Colossal are very different. Use CRISPR, an innovative gene-editing technology, to restore mammoths from extinction by 2027.

The plan is not to faithfully reproduce the real mammoth, but to bring cold-adapted genetic characteristics such as small ears and more body fat to the elephant’s cousin, wandering the tundra without the mammoth. . The co-founders of Colossal are Ben Lamm, CEO, who has founded five companies to date, and George Church, professor at Harvard Medical School, who has deep CRISPR expertise.

“Our true pole star has not only succeeded in restoring the mammoth, but also in turning it into an arctic cross,” Lam said. “We are currently focused on keeping the first calf for the next 4-6 years.”

It’s an interesting example of the need to dominate the tech world. Not only to earn money, but also to help the earth. Tesla’s mission is to electrify transportation to eliminate fossil fuels that damage the planet. Bolt Threads wants to replace leather with an equivalent based on fungal fibers that is more environmentally friendly than breeding. Colossal hopes his work will bring attention to biodiversity issues and ultimately help solve them.

Colossal has raised $ 15 million so far. The startup’s 19 employees work at its Dallas headquarters and offices in Boston and Austin, Texas, and use the money to further increase employment.

Spin-off of artificial uteri and other technologies

Church said he expects a spin-off from the company’s biotechnology and genetics research.

“Because a vast pipeline of genomic engineering technologies can be applied to many other applications beyond extinction. [are] It is the most promising for commercialization. ”

One of the most mature technologies for commercialization is multigenomic engineering. It is a Church-backed technology that speeds up gene editing by making changes to multiple DNAs at once.

Colossal also wants to develop an artificial uterus to grow mammoth embryos. Raising 10 mammoths with an elephant surrogate is not enough to reach the large herd envisioned by the company.

The basis of Colossal’s work is CRISPR. This technology applies an evolved method by which bacteria identify attacking viruses and hash their DNA, and is now the mainstay of genetic engineering, with Church since the early days of CRISPR.

Jurassic Park-style tourism? No

Selling or licensing a derivative technology is a somewhat indirect way of running a business. A more direct option is to sell tickets to tourists. After all, humans already pay dearly to see charismatic megafauna like lions, elephants, and giraffes on an African safari. Seeing creatures that have been missing for 10,000 years can add to the excitement.

But it’s not a colossal game plan. “We are now focusing on species conservation and biodiversity conservation, not entry into zoos,” says Lam. By recreating the mammoth, Colossal can protect the genetic heritage of the now endangered Asian elephant.

Another candidate Colossal wants to recreate is the woolly rhino versus the endangered Sumatran rhino.

Colossal does not intend to build a tourist attraction, but has in mind a gigantic rewilding site that appears to be very close to Jurassic Park: Praistozeno Park. About 60 square miles of northern Russia, the region is named after the geological period that ended in the last ice age, and researchers Sergei and Nikitajimov gave a theory of the ecological and climatic effects of rewilding.

One of Zimoff’s ideas is for a mammoth to stomp on snow and topple trees. This restores grasslands that reflect more of the sun’s heating rays, removes snow and forest insulation, and cools the ground even more. And that means that instead of releasing the current greenhouse gas storage of carbon dioxide and methane, the ground remains frozen. Scientists have calculated that melting permafrost could release an estimated 260 to 300 billion tonnes of carbon by 2300, exacerbating other problems caused by extreme weather and climate change.

Is extinction of species a good idea?

The idea of ​​extinction is fascinating. Humans have radically changed the planet, and the United Nations estimates that we will end up threatening a million endangered species.

Colossal wants its work to draw more attention to the collapse of biodiversity. We also plan to produce detailed genetic descriptions of many endangered species. “There is a recipe for the extinction of the species,” Lamb said.

But is it really maximizing our resources to help the planet? No, some researchers believe.

While there are several benefits to resuscitating species, a group of biologists argues in an article published in Nature Ecology & Evolution that it is better to spend money to protect species that still exist. “The potential sacrifices in protecting existing species must be an important consideration in deciding whether to invest in extinction or to focus our efforts on existing species,” the researchers wrote. ..

But that’s not government money Colossal is talking about, and Lamm says his startup work complements other conservation efforts. And he argues that startups can scale faster than government-funded work.

In a world dominated by the headlines of the climate crisis, startups that make money with a focus on improving ecosystems have a special appeal. One investor, Zack Lynch of Jazz Venture Partners, is excited about the software, hardware and biotechnology that Colossal expects to create.

At the same time, “these advances are helping to address issues such as land degradation, loss of animal pollen material and other negative trends in biodiversity,” said Lynch. Given the magnitude of our environmental problems, we can see why investors are interested.

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