The company, Colossal, have received $15 million USD via private funding in order to bring back the woolly mammoth and repopulate it in Siberia.
This comes as the brainchild of Harvard School medical biologist, Dr. George Church, who has been leading a team of researchers these last eight years to develop the tools to bring back the mammoth.
According to Dr. Church, the team has spent a lot of their time pinpointing the genetic differences between the Asian elephants and the mammoth as they share a common ancestor. The team believes it’s possible to modify the genetic code of an elephant to create a lifeform that both looks and acts like a mammoth. But it is really a mammoth? Sort of a Ship of Theseus style conundrum.
Dr. Eriona Hysolli is the person who is overseeing the genetical edits of approximately 60 genes in the elephant to get it as close to the mammoth as possible. These include things like thick fat for colder climates, very dense and thick hair, and a higher-domed skull.
Dr. Hysolli says of her work, “this set of tools can be used for many purposes, whether it’s de-extinction or recoding the human genome.” Others have pointed out that this could be used to save endangered species as well as extinct ones by giving them stronger genes for resistances to diseases and temperature changes.
Some of you, like me, are asking if these people have ever seen Jurassic Park and what kind of chaos this kind of tech could cause. But Dr. Church doesn’t see it that way. Dr Church believes that returning the mammoths to Siberia would actually be beneficial for the environment. He explains that the Siberian tundra used to be mostly grassland but have since been overgrown with moss. Russian ecologists have introduced other animals, like bison, to try and return the tundra back to its original form but to little avail. Dr. Church believes that the mammoths are a solution for this as they would be far more efficient at breaking up the moss.
There are a lot of ethical questions raised with this project as it’s not a creature that we are exactly familiar with and one that hasn’t been a part of the ecosystem for 4,000 years or so. Who knows how these creatures will react, will they even react like a mammoth considering the bits and pieces borrowed from other creatures? These are questions that look like they might be answered in the near future.