The woolly mammoths will return to life on Earth if they rely on a group of scientists and entrepreneurs who have already received US $ 15 million (approximately R 78 million) from their sponsors.
The money allocated to a company called Colossal will help in the development of genetic engineering technologies that could create a hybrid with the Asian elephant as close as possible to the mammoths that once inhabited the planet. After achieving this goal, some parts of Siberia will be populated with these animals and the environment will be restored to peace.
George Church, a biologist from Harvard University Medical School in the United States, said in an interview with the New York Times, “It will change the world.”
For the past eight years, the church has spent most of its time managing projects with other stakeholders on the idea. The starting point of the work will be the genetic material from the frozen remains of mammoths that died several millennia ago.
There are those who oppose this idea, citing the ethical problems of saving giant animals from extinction. There is also the unpredictability of knowing how these mammoths behave on Earth today. Beth Shapiro, a Paleogeneticist at the University of California, told the New York Times: “There are a lot of issues that everyone is going through along the way.
The origin of the idea
The idea of bringing back woolly mammoths was first mooted by the church in 2013. At the time, researchers were studying DNA fragments found in fossils in an attempt to reunite the genomes of endangered species.
The Church, studying new ways of reading and editing DNA, wondered: Is it possible to bring an extinct species back to life by matching the genome of a relative that still exists today?
Mammoths seem to be the best candidates for you because they are the closest ancestor of today’s Asian elephants: they share a common ancestor who lived about 6 million years ago. In addition, mammoth DNA can be easily found in Siberia.
Biologist says mammoths can help restore ecological balance: Global warming has caused temperatures to rise in the tundra of Siberia and North America, leading to rapid release and large amounts of carbon dioxide.
In today’s tundra, most of it is moss, but in the days of the mammoths there was pasture. Biologists believe that the mammoth acted as the custodian of this habitat, clearing the algae, breaking down the trees, and leaving a lot of manure left behind. With the return of these animals, all of this can be recovered and contain carbon dioxide emissions.
The scientist’s initial ideas caught the attention of journalists, but not investors: he was able to raise $ 100,000 (R $ 520,000) for his research. “Honestly, I intend to work slower,” Church said.
However, in 2019, he met Ben Lam, the founder of the Texas AI Hypergiant Company, and when he read the news about the project, he wanted to help save the giant beast. “After spending a day in the lab and a lot of time with George, we were very excited,” said Lam, who later started setting up the company Colossus.
Two ‘resurrection’ technologies
Endangered species can be brought back to life in two ways: cloning and genetic engineering. The first method is the example of a goat named Dolly, which was cloned in 1997.
This method has already been tested with Bucardo or Pyrenees ibex. A surrogate mother goat gave birth to an ibex – an endangered species that was first raised.
Unfortunately, this is also the first case of twin extinctions, as the babies lived only seven minutes.
There are many well-preserved remains of mammoths Permafrost From Siberia, but its DNA is usually damaged by prolonged freezing time. The genome of the mammoth has already been understood by scientists, but the complete genetic network has not been achieved since it existed when the animal existed.
This is where a second method called CRISPR gene editing technology comes in handy. In it, specific genes that allowed mammoths to survive at higher latitudes are added to the genome of their closest relative, the Asian elephant.
Then, the modified genome is placed in the fertilized elephant’s egg, which is then placed in an elephant surrogate mother. From there, elephant and mammoth hybrids are expected to be born.
There are, of course, great difficulties, such as the fact that scientists do not know exactly which genes are needed to survive in the Arctic. They know that the animal must be covered with fur and have an oval skull and a thick layer of skin fat – but everything else is still a question.
Today, about 1 million species of plants and animals are endangered. According to Lam, if the Colossal project is successful, it will pave the way for “genetic salvation” of various organisms.
The term refers to the process of increasing genetic diversity through cloning or genetic engineering of endangered species. Lam says the mammoth project is a kind of “trial balloon.”
While this giant will not be brought back to Earth, technologies will be developed along the way that can prevent extinction and license or sell – after all, the company is commercial, not charitable.
The plan to revive the mammoth can be seen as a kind of incubator for the development of genetic engineering and intellectual property, which is easier to see at birth than a live woolly mammoth.
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