Colossal Biosciences, a biotech company, says it will try to revive the dodo using gene editing.
This is the latest effort to revive extinct animals in the face of the biodiversity crisis.
Other projects include bringing back the Tasmanian wolf and the woolly mammoth.
The multibillion-dollar startup Colossal Biosciences claims it’s one step closer to reviving the dodo, a flightless bird that’s been extinct since the 17th century.
The futuristic plan is only possible now that the Dallas-based company has deciphered the entire genome of the dodo, according to a press release.
The bird is the latest in the collection of long-gone animals that scientists want to bring back to life. The startup has previously said it plans to replicate the Tasmanian wolf and woolly mammoth.
Much remains to be done before these birds can be returned. Scientists can’t create life from scratch, so they’ll have to figure out a way to put the dodo-specific genes into the embryo of a living animal.
That in itself is no small task. The next step is to compare that genetic information with the genes of closely related birds like the Nicobar pigeon and the Rodrigues solitaire, an extinct giant runner pigeon, to figure out the mutations that “make a dodo a dodo,” Beth Shapiro, a lead geneticist on the project, told CNN.
Shapiro says the ultimate plan would be to reintroduce the birds to Mauritius, where they lived before being wiped out by humans.
A bird created with such an approach would be a hybrid resembling its ancestor.
The plan is “very, very challenging,” Ewan Birney, deputy director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, who is not involved in the project, told The Guardian.
Still, since 2021, the company has raised an additional $150 million for the project for a total of $225 million. According to Bloomberg, the startup is valued at $1.5 billion at the latest investment.
There are obvious ethical questions when thinking about creating a species with the goal of releasing them into the wild, Birney said.
“There are people who think that because you can do something you should do it, but I’m not sure what purpose it serves and whether this is really the best allocation of resources,” Birney told the Guardian. “We should save the species we have before they go extinct.”
Colossal Biosciences claims that bringing these animals back is not the only goal.
These grand plans also serve as a moonshot for conservation research and the hope is that useful tools can be discovered along the way to help animals survive the current biodiversity crisis, it said.
“We’re clearly in the middle of an extinction crisis. And it’s our responsibility to bring stories and excite people in a way that motivates them to think about the extinction crisis that’s going on right now,” Shapiro told CNN.
“I’m particularly looking forward to developing genetic rescue tools aimed at bird and bird conservation,” she said.
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