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Woolly mammoth, Tasmanian wolf… When Jurassic Park becomes real

And if the resurrection of hopes disappeared from their DNA, or almost, became a reality?

Written by Alexon Aug 28, 2022, at 6:21 p.m.

It’s like being in the famous Hollywood saga: start-ups and laboratories are working to bring life back to species that have long since disappeared.

Modify the genome of living animals

Fortunately, we are still far from seeing Velociraptors escaping from their enclosure. But the American start-up Colossal Biosciences intends to use advances in genetics to recreate extinct species in the laboratory. Starting with the woolly mammoth, a species extinct for more than 10,000 years, during the Pleistocene.

What do Harvard University geneticist George Church and entrepreneur Ben Lamm plan to do? There too, the parallel with Jurassic Park is inevitable: by modifying the genome of animals still alive on the planet. The idea would therefore not be to clone them, but to evolve a species close enough to make it regain the lost characteristics of its distant ancestor.

Have recreated the Woolly Mammoth by 2027-2028

In other words, it will be a question of making an Asian elephant a woolly mammoth by modifying its genome. To create these true genetic chimeras, the Colossal Biosciences sorcerer’s apprentice duo already raised $15 million last year. She has already taken DNA from an Asian elephant to sequence it, and obtained cells from woolly mammoth skin in Russia, again to sequence its genome. The genetic start-up was thus able to define around fifty characteristic traits of the woolly mammoth, born to resist the polar cold.

Next step: modifying the DNA of the Asian elephant accordingly thanks to “genetic scissors” of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, then implant the embryo in a surrogate mother. If the gestation of an elephant lasts 18 to 22 months, the designers of the project estimate that their new recreated species could see the light of day by 2027-2028.

Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) – Australia – © Adwo

A sixth mass extinction

In order to justify their approach, the founders of Colossal Biosciences even baptized their concept: de-extinction. Putting forward an environmental goal, and not a financial one, they believe that the reintroduction of the woolly mammoth in the Arctic could contribute to the preservation of the permafrost, and prevent it from releasing a large quantity of greenhouse gases as it warms. Colossal Bioscience is also interested in re-creating the Tasmanian wolf, a species extinct in 1936 by humans. “Research shows Australia has the worst mammalian extinction rate in the world,” recalls the start-up in a press release. Its reintroduction could help regenerate biodiversity.

To go further – The 6th mass extinction is accelerating dramatically

In a context of sixth mass extinction, due to human action, the argument seems audible. Indeed, in one century, the number of extinct species has multiplied by 100. Unheard of since the disappearance of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago… According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Earth has already lost 68% of its populations of wild animals since the 1970s. And even 89% of vertebrate species in the tropics, South America and Central America. Genetic start-ups will unfortunately be spoiled for choice as to the species to be resuscitated… But it is also as much money that could, basically, be devoted to the preservation of those in danger, but still alive.

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