Colossal launches mammoth resurrection experiment

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Colossal launches mammoth resurrection experiment
Colossal launches mammoth resurrection experiment
14 September, 15:37SciencePhoto: The New York Times
Woolly mammoths became extinct ten thousand years ago. Yesterday, a group of researchers and entrepreneurs announced the start of a project to return them to the Siberian tundra. Scientists plan to create a hybrid of an elephant and a mammoth, the first cubs are expected in six years.

Colossal has announced that it has raised $ 15 million for an ambitious project that has been talked about for over a decade, according to The New York Times. Colossal is engaged in research in biology and genetics, it is co-founded by technology and software entrepreneur Ben Lamm and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, George Church, known for his work on gene editing. For Church, the mammoth resurrection experiment is of scientific interest: is it possible to revive an extinct species by rewriting the genes of its living relative? Mammoths and Asian elephants had a common ancestor that lived about six million years ago, so Church decided it was realistic to modify the elephant's genome and create something that would look and behave like a mammoth.

To create embryos in the laboratory, scientists will take skin cells of Asian elephants (which, by the way, are threatened with extinction), compare them with the genome of mammoths found in permafrost, and create a hybrid that will have wool, body fat and other features that allow them to survive in cold climates.

Who will carry the embryos? Initially, Church intended to implant them into surrogate mothers - female elephants. However, this idea was rejected: even if it was possible to figure out how to carry out in vitro fertilization of elephants, which no one else had done before, too many surrogate mothers would be required to create a herd. Instead, they decided to create an artificial mammoth uterus lined with tissue grown from stem cells. This will not be easy: an artificial uterus will be required, suitable for two years to develop a fetus that will eventually weigh 100 kilograms, but Church believes in success. If everything works out, in six years the first cubs of mammoth-like elephants will be born, and then entire populations.

The goal of the project is to create a hardy Asian elephant that looks and behaves like a mammoth and can live in the Arctic. The appearance of such herds in the tundra steppe would help restore the degraded habitat and cope with the consequences of the climate crisis. Felling trees, trampling and compacting the ground by mammoths will revive the former polar meadows and help keep the land cool, stop melting and prevent the release of carbon dioxide.

Many environmental biology experts are highly skeptical of the idea and predict it will fail completely. At least because of the fantastic scale of the enterprise: each mammoth needs to spend 22 months in the womb, and then 30 years to grow to maturity. There are ethical issues as well. For example, is it humane to produce an animal, so little is known about biology? Who will help him grow up - in nature, elephants have unusually strong bonds between mother and child, and they last a very long time. Is it possible to release these animals at all without knowing in advance how exactly they will change the ecosystem? Indeed, it is not clear whether the return of the mammoths to the Arctic will actually lead to positive climate change. There is a hypothesis that trees and moss in the wooded Arctic regions are just protecting the permafrost, and their disappearance will only aggravate warming.

The new project has several investors, including Climate Capital, a private equity firm that supports efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and the Winklevoss brothers, known for their litigation with Mark Zuckerberg, whom they accused of stealing the idea of their Facebook social network ConnectU.

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