How you feel about this will likely depend on how strongly you identify with that Ian Malcolm quote from Jurassic Park.
The Texas entrepreneur working to bring back the woolly mammoth has added a new species to his revival list: the dodo.
Recreating this flightless bird, a symbol of human-caused extinction, is a chance for redemption. It might also motivate humans to remove invasive species from Mauritius, the bird’s native habitat, said Ben Lamm, CEO and co-founder of Colossal Biosciences.
“Humanity can undo the sins of the past with these advancing genetic rescue technologies,” Lamm said. “There is always a benefit for carefully planned rewilding of a species back into its native environment.”
The dodo is the third animal that Colossal Biosciences — which announced Tuesday it has raised $225 million since September 2021 — is working to recreate.
And no, the company isn’t cloning extinct animals — that’s impossible, said Lamm, who lives in Dallas. Instead, it’s focusing on genes that produce the physical attributes of the extinct animals. The animals it’s creating will have core genes from those ancestors, engineered for the same niche the extinct species inhabited.
The woolly mammoth, for instance, is being called an Arctic elephant. It will look like a woolly mammoth and contribute to the Arctic ecosystem in a way that’s similar to the woolly mammoth. But it will technically be an Asian elephant with genes altered to survive in the cold. Asian elephants and woolly mammoths share 99.6 percent of their DNA.
For the dodo, Colossal is partnering with evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro, a scientific advisory board member for Colossal who led the team that first fully sequenced the dodo’s genome.
The dodo went extinct in 1662 as a direct result of human settlement and ecosystem competition. They were killed off by hunting and the introduction of invasive species. Creating an environment where the dodos can thrive will require humans to remove the invaders (the non-human invaders, anyway), and this environmental restoration could have cascading benefits on other plants and animals.
“Everybody has heard of the dodo, and everybody understands that the dodo is gone because people changed its habitat in such a way that it could not survive,” Shapiro said. “By taking on this audacious project, Colossal will remind people not only of the tremendous consequences that our actions can have on other species and ecosystems, but also that it is in our control to do something about it.”
The third species is the Tasmanian tiger. I missed the original mammoth story or I’d surely have mentioned it, since I have a longstanding interest in those critters. I’m not qualified to opine on the wisdom of all this, so I’ll just leave you with that aforementioned quote:
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