Exciting work: the mammoths are back …

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“This is a very important step for us that will make a difference in the world,” said George Church, a biologist at Harvard Medical School who has led a research team that has been working on resuscitating mammoths for eight years.

Elephant DNA will be altered

The company, which received $ 15 million in the first fund, Dr. He will support research in Church’s lab and will conduct experiments in its own labs in Boston and Dallas. Dr. Eriona Hysolli, a former Church lab researcher, will oversee the new company’s efforts to modify elephant DNA and add genes for gigantic traits such as dense hair and thick fat so the DNA can resist cold.


In a few years, researchers hope to produce embryos of these mammoth-like elephants and ultimately raise entire animal populations.
While other researchers are skeptical of Colossal’s plan, “Is it human to raise an animal whose biology we know little about?” “,” Who will decide if this animal has the potential to profoundly alter tundra ecosystems? ” ask questions. If Colossal is successful in producing baby elephants that resemble mammoths, the company will face serious ethical questions.

“There are tons of issues that everyone will be facing during this process,” said Beth Shapiro, a paleogenetician at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of “How to Clone a Mammoth”.

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The idea for Colossal was first introduced in 2013 by Dr. It was made public in a speech the Church gave to the National Geographic Society. At the time, researchers were learning to reconstruct the genomes of extinct species from fragments of DNA from fossils. It was then possible to identify the genetic differences that separated ancient species from their modern cousins ​​and begin to understand how these DNA differences produced differences in their bodies.

Known for inventing different methods of reading and editing DNA, Dr. Church questioned whether a living parent could actually revive an extinct species by rewriting its genes. Because Asian elephants and mammoths share a common ancestor that lived about six million years ago, Dr. Church believed that it would be possible to modify an elephant’s genome to produce something that would look and act like a mammoth.


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Dr. Beyond scientific curiosity, Church argued that resuscitated woolly mammoths could help the environment. Today, the tundra of Siberia and North America, where animals once grazed, heat up quickly and release carbon dioxide. “Mammoths are hypothetically a solution for this,” Church said.
Today, most of the tundra is covered with moss. But during the days of the woolly mammoths, the area was largely grassland. Some researchers argue that woolly mammoths were ecosystem engineers, protecting grasslands by destroying algae, chopping down trees, and providing fertilizer with their droppings.

Hoping to bring the tundra back to the grasslands, Russian conservationists have brought bison and other species to a protected area in Siberia they call the Pleistocene Park. Dr. Church argued that resurrected woolly mammoths could do this more efficiently, that restored grasslands would prevent soil from melting and eroding, and even scavenge heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

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Dr. Church’s proposal received a lot of media attention, but little funding of around $ 100,000 was received from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Dr. Church’s lab also focused on other experiments whose massive research was better funded. Dr. “This research can be used for many purposes, such as human extinction or re-encoding the human genome,” Hysolli said. noted.


Scientists will try to make an elephant embryo whose genome has been altered to look like an ancient mammoth. To do this, scientists would need to extract DNA from an elephant egg and replace it with mammoth DNA, but no one has yet collected elephant eggs. If that doesn’t work, Dr. Hysolli and his colleagues will also study the transformation of ordinary elephant tissue into stem cells, which can then be made into embryos in the lab.

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Heather Bushman, a philosopher at the London School of Economics, said that whatever benefits mammoths may have had on the tundra, the potential pain they may have felt while being created by scientists must also be taken into account. .

Dr. “Scientists can use Colossal’s advances to save endangered species from disease by equipping them with resistance genes against a pathogen,” Shapiro said. Other species could be enriched with genes to better tolerate the heat and drought caused by climate change. he said. “I am concerned that the rate of climate change and habitat degradation for many species today is too fast for evolution to save them. We need to intervene more,” Shapiro warned.

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