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Startup plans to resurrect woolly mammoth this decade

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Thousands of years ago, herds of woolly mammoths roamed the tundra of Asia, Europe and North America. Then they disappeared along with most of the other megafauna. It was right around the time when humans started to spread across the world. Weird, isn’t it? Whether or not our ancestors were directly responsible for the extinction of the woolly mammoth, it is an extinction that we could perhaps reverse. New startup led by Harvard scientist George Church and serial entrepreneur Ben Lamm aims to use CRISPR gene-editing technique to restore mammoths (or something like them) to Earth by the end of the years 2020.

The company, known as Colossal, raised $ 15 million in funding to start work on the project. this is not one jurassic park scenario – Colossal is not going to clone the original species of woolly mammoth. Instead, it will use CRISPR to make changes to the genome of the endangered Asian elephant, a creature that shares more than 99.9% of its DNA with its extinct cousin.

According to Church, who has been considering resuscitating the mammoth for years, the team has already identified the mammoth’s genes that gave the animals a shaggy coat, small ears and more body fat. Theoretically, it should be possible to add these genes to the Asian elephant to create something that looks a lot like a woolly mammoth. These animals would be able to survive the intense cold of northern latitudes, just like the original animals.

Colossal is hoping that the mammoth’s resurrection will bring attention to climate change and the loss of species. While there will be no jurassic parkA tourist attraction in style, Colossal has identified a 60 square mile region in northern Russia where researchers can test ideas about rewilding – that is, the reintroduction of artificial mammoths into the environment. Among other things, Colossal believes mammoths could help remake the earth by chopping down trees and trampling the ground to remove snow cover. This could lead to the return of grasslands that insulate the soil and prevent seasonal thaw, which breaks down permafrost and releases massive amounts of greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane as the planet warms.

A male mammoth fossil on display at the Naturkunde- und Mammut-Museum. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Not everyone is convinced that extinguishing is the best use of time and energy when it comes to protecting the environment. However, Colossal argues that this technology could eventually help bring back other species and even prevent others from becoming extinct by increasing the genetic diversity of endangered creatures.

For all of this to happen, Colossal will need to develop new genetic tools and maybe even artificial uterus technology. Even if efforts to resuscitate the mammoth fail, these technologies could be invaluable. This helps explain why investors were willing to inject $ 15 million into a Moonshot business. If Colossal can turn vision into reality, the first artificial mammoths could be born as early as 2027.

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