A bioscience company has raised $15 million to help it bring the woolly mammoth back from extinction using genetic technology.
Colossal, headed by a tech entrepreneur and a Harvard genetics professor, announced the new funding on Monday and said it wants to restore thousands of the beasts to the Siberian tundra. It says the animals, which became extinct about 4,000 years ago, could help the environment.
Prof George Church said the first step would be to create a mammoth-elephant hybrid, adding genes with traits distinctive to woolly mammoths to an Asian elephant's egg. For decades, scientists have been recovering bits and pieces of mammoth tusks, bones, teeth and hair to try to sequence the mammoth's DNA.
One issue they face, though, is the incubation period. Asian elephants, mammoths' closest living relatives, usually carry their young for up to 22 months before birth.
Instead of using a surrogate, Mr Church is planning to build an artificial uterus to grow the mammoths.
“Never before has humanity been able to harness the power of this technology to rebuild ecosystems, heal our Earth and preserve its future through the repopulation of extinct animals,” said Colossal's chief executive and co-founder Ben Lamm, an emerging technology entrepreneur.
“In addition to bringing back ancient extinct species like the woolly mammoth, we will be able to leverage our technologies to help preserve critically endangered species that are on the verge of extinction and restore animals where humankind had a hand in their demise.”
Mr Church is a renowned geneticist and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, who is using pioneering techniques, including CRISPR technology, to advance species de-extinction.
“Technologies discovered in pursuit of this grand vision — a living, walking proxy of a woolly mammoth — could create very significant opportunities in conservation and beyond,” Mr Church said.
The woolly mammoth's vast migration patterns were seen as critical to preserving the Arctic region's environmental health.
Colossal says restoring the beasts has the potential to revitalise the Arctic grasslands, a vast region with major climate change-combating properties, such as carbon sequestering and methane suppression.
Colossal is funded in part through a $15 million seed round from investors and says its advisers include leaders in bioethics and genomics.