Colossal Biosciences

Colossal Biosciences is a biotechnology company working to genetically resurrect the woolly mammoth, combining its genes with Asian elephant DNA.[1][2][3][4] It has claimed to have the first woolly mammoth hybrid calves by 2027 and will introduce them to Pleistocene Park to restore the Arctic tundra habitat and combat climate change. Endangered Asian elephants reportedly would have mammoth traits.[5]

Colossal Biosciences
IndustryBiotechnology
Founded2021; 1 year ago (2021)
FoundersGeorge Church
Ben Lamm
Websitecolossal.com

The company develops genetic engineering and reproductive technology for conservation biology. It was founded in 2021 by George Church and Ben Lamm.[1]

HistoryEdit

FoundationEdit

In a 2008 interview with The New York Times, George Church first expressed his interest in engineering a hybrid Asian elephant-mammoth by sequencing the woolly mammoth genome.[2] In 2012, Church was part of a team that pioneered the Crispr-Cas9 gene editing tool, through which the potential for altering genetic code to engineer the envisioned “mammophant" surfaced.[6] Church presented a talk at the National Geographic Society in 2013, where he mapped out the idea of Colossal.[1]

Church and his genetics team used CRISPR to copy mammoth genes into the genome of an Asian elephant in 2015.[7] That same year, Church’s lab integrated mammoth genes into the DNA of elephant skin cells; the lab zeroed in on 60 genes that experiments hypothesized as being important to the distinctive traits of mammoths, such as a high-domed skull, ability to hold oxygen at low temperatures, and fatty tissue.[1][2] Church’s lab reported in 2017 that it had successfully added 45 genes to the genome of an Asian elephant.[8]

In 2019, Ben Lamm, a serial entrepreneur, contacted Church to meet at his lab in Boston.[2] Lamm was intrigued by press reports of Church’s de-extinction idea.[1]

LaunchEdit

Colossal was officially launched on September 13, 2021.[1][2][9][10] The launch included a $15 million seed round led by Thomas Tull, Tim Draper, Tony Robbins, Winklevoss Capital Management, Breyer Capital and Richard Garriott.[11][6][12] In addition to the de-extinction of the woolly mammoth, Church’s lab hopes to synthesize the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, a virus which infects and kills many young Asian elephants.[2] Colossal also announced that the company’s mission was to preserve endangered animals through gene-editing technology and use those same animals to reshape Arctic ecosystems to combat climate change.[13]

The company’s genomic modeling software development could potentially bring forth advancements in disease treatment, multiplexed genetic engineering, synthetic biology, and biotechnology.[7][12] Colossal recruited mammoth and modern elephant experts Michael Hofreiter and Fritz Vollrath, as well as bioethicists R. Alta Charo and S. Matthew Liao for their consultation.[2]

In October 2021, Colossal announced its partnership with VGP; through this collaboration, Colossal will provide funding for VGP to sequence and assemble Asian elephant, African elephant, and African forest elephant genomes for preservation purposes. These genomes will be made publicly accessible for research without use restrictions.[14]

In March 2022, Colossal raised $60 million in a Series A funding round led by Thomas Tull with participation from Animoca Brands, Paris Hilton, Charles Hoskinson, bringing the total funding to $75 million.[15][16]

Science and developmentEdit

Because the woolly mammoth and Asian elephant share 99.6% of the same DNA, Colossal aims to develop a proxy species by swapping enough key mammoth genes into the Asian elephant genome.[2] Key mammoth genealogical traits include: a 10-centimeter layer of insulating fat, five different types of shaggy hair, and smaller ears to help the hybrid tolerate cold weather.[17]

Colossal’s lab will pair CRISPR/Cas9 with other DNA-editing enzymes, such as integrases, recombinases, and deaminases, to splice woolly mammoth genes into the Asian elephant.[13] The company anticipates that this cold-resistant hybrid species will be fully interbreedable with the Asian elephant.[2] The company also plans on sequencing both elephant and mammoth samples in order to identify key genes in both species to promote population diversification. By doing so, Colossal hopes to prevent any rogue mutations within the hybrid herd.[13]

Colossal is avoiding the use of surrogates, as Asian elephants are endangered. Instead, the company will develop artificial elephant wombs lined with uterine tissue.[1][2][18] Colossal scientists plan on creating these embryos by taking skin cells from Asian elephants and reprogramming them into induced pluripotent stem cells which carry mammoth DNA.[2][5] Lamm stated that Colossal will use either induced pluripotent stem cell therapy or cell nuclear transfer.[7]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Zimmer, Carl (2021-09-13). "A New Company With a Wild Mission: Bring Back the Woolly Mammoth". The New York Times. Retrieved 2021-10-26.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Michael Greshko (September 13, 2021). "Mammoth-elephant hybrids could be created within the decade. Should they be?". National Geographic.
  3. ^ "Lab-grown woolly mammoths could walk the Earth in six years if geneticist's new start-up succeeds". CNBC. 13 September 2021. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  4. ^ "Scientists hope to successfully create woolly mammoth hybrid by 2027". 16 September 2021. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  5. ^ a b Sample, Ian (2021-09-13). "Firm raises $15m to bring back woolly mammoth from extinction". the Guardian. Retrieved 2021-10-26.
  6. ^ a b Martine Paris (September 13, 2021). "Bitcoin billionaires bet big on reviving woolly mammoths to combat climate change". Fortune.
  7. ^ a b c Kara Carlson (September 17, 2021). "Could Austin entrepreneur's company help bring back the woolly mammoth?". Austin American Statesman.
  8. ^ Emma Betuel (September 13, 2021). "How Colossal sold investors on a quest to resurrect a woolly mammoth". Tech Crunch.
  9. ^ "Woolly Mammoths Will Walk the Arctic Tundra Again". Discovery. September 13, 2021.
  10. ^ Liz Brody (September 13, 2021). "This New Company Says It's Bringing Back the Woolly Mammoth, As A Way to Fight Climate Change". Entrenpreneur.
  11. ^ DeFrancesco, Laura (2021). "Church to de-extinct woolly mammoths". Nature Biotechnology. 39 (10): 1171. doi:10.1038/s41587-021-01096-y. PMID 34621073. S2CID 238474277. Retrieved 10 November 2021.
  12. ^ a b Tom Foster (September 13, 2021). "This Texan Aims to Resurrect the Woolly Mammoth to Save the Planet". Texas Monthly.
  13. ^ a b c Charlotte Hu (September 13, 2021). "This CRISPR startup thinks that mammoths can save the Arctic. Is it right?". Popular Science.
  14. ^ Christie Rizk (October 6, 2021). "Colossal Begins Ambitious De-Extinction Plan With Elephant Sequencing Project, Despite Critics". Genome Web.
  15. ^ Josh Saul (March 9, 2022). "Woolly Mammoth Revival Raises $75 Million From VC Firms, Paris Hilton". Bloomberg.
  16. ^ Chris J. Preimesberger (March 9, 2022). "How Colossal is using genetic engineering to bring back the woolly mammoth". Venture Beat.
  17. ^ Katie Hunt (September 13, 2021). "Scientists want to resurrect the woolly mammoth. They just got $15 million to make it happen". CNN.
  18. ^ Boyd Farrow (April 15, 2022). "Gene-editing could bring back mammoths. Can it save our planet?". Wired.