A new biotechnology and genetics company founded by an entrepreneur and a distinguished Harvard University professor wants to revive the mammoth, a woolly relative of the extinct elephant 4,000 years ago. The company, called Colossal, received a $ 15 million grant. Here is how he will go about creating the first hybrids with the Indian elephant.
There has been talk for years of wanting to bring giants back to life mammut, animals that became extinct due to man about four thousand years ago, but now this controversial project – which clearly winks at Jurassic Park – is getting closer and closer to concreteness, at least on paper. The wealthy entrepreneur Ben Lamm, active in software and new technologies, has in fact just founded a new biotechnology and genetics company named “Colossal”Which has among its main objectives the de-extinction of the magnificent relatives woolly of the elephants, exterminated (like so many other animals) by the merciless hunting perpetrated by our species. To co-found the new company, which received funding from 15 million dollars for his research, also a distinguished lecturer in genetics at Harvard University School of Medicine, Professor George Church, whose studies have been fundamental for the development of the recent techniques of genetic editing, the “cut and paste” of the DNA.
Genetics, moreover, will be fundamental to revive the mammoths, which once ruled the freezing cold tundra Northern Hemisphere, North America, Europe and Russia. Scientists are not aiming to directly give birth to a real mammoth, rather a hybrid from Indian elephant-mammoth, obtained in the laboratory by working on cells. Put simply, after taking skin samples from Asian elephants, the researchers will reprogram the cells obtained in stamina cells, within which, through the technique CRISPR, thegenetic information relating to the characteristics of the mammoth, such as those for surviving the cold (the thick bristly fur e deposits of subcutaneous fat), but also the smaller ears and the very long, iconic ones fangs. The Indian elephant (which is threatened with extinction) and the mammoth, moreover, share the 99.6 percent of the genetic heritage, as stated by Colossal, therefore it is the most suitable living animal to create a hybrid. The genetic profiles of the two species involved were compared for a long time in the laboratory, in order to identify the geni related to the characteristics of mammoths, also detected thanks to carcass perfectly preserved in the heart of the permafrost (and from which precious DNA sequences have been extracted). According to Colossal’s predictions, if all research obstacles are overcome, the first Indian elephant-mammoth hybrid babies could be born in six years.
A small mammoth recovered from permafrost Credit: Cyclonaut
The biotech company wants to bring mammoths back to life to restore them ancient ecosystems of the Arctic tundra, where hundreds of thousands of these animals transformed the terrain during migrations, crushing the ice, cutting down trees and spreading the seeds of plant species. This would restore the ancient ones arctic grasslands. According to the creators of the project, this repopulation operation could even combat the effects of climate change. “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,” said Colossal’s chief executive. Ben Lamm. “In addition to reviving ancient extinct species such as the woolly mammoth, we will be able to leverage our technologies to help preserve endangered species that are on the verge of extinction and restore the animals where humanity has contributed to their demise, ”added Colossal’s CEO.
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Despite the seemingly virtuous premises, many scientists are skeptical of the project’s success and objectives. Not only because it will be very complicated to give birth to an Indian elephant-mammoth hybrid (the engineered embryo should be implanted in a female elephant or in an artificial uterus), but also because of the number of specimens needed to achieve the desired transformation. of the arctic tundra. In fact, the very long must be considered gestation of elephants and also the time interval to reach sexual maturity. Ethical issues should also not be underestimated. “There are many questions raised by this project. The ethical key points are the aspects of animal experimentation and breeding: what is this creature? Is it a new species? How many do you need? ”Said Dr. Victoria Herridge, a researcher on ancient elephants. “If they succeed – continues the scientist – what will be the needs of a social and intelligent creature? And what are our obligations towards him? ”. All questions that will be essential to answer, also because some think that projects like this will be exploited (also) to create theme parks just like the infamous Jurassic Park, where to lock up the preistoric animal resurrected for the public mockery.