It has been 361 years since anyone has seen a dodo, the odd-looking bird that has become a poster child for extinction. But Colossal Biosciences is hoping to bring them back.
The company, which made headlines less than 18 months ago with its announcement it planned to revive the woolly mammoth, says it will pursue the de-extinction of the iconic bird, using (in part) funds from a Series B funding round that injected another $150 million into the company.
That follows a $60 million cash infusion last March.
“The Dodo is a prime example of a species that became extinct because we—people—made it impossible for them to survive in their native habitat,” says Beth Shapiro Ph.D., a board member on Colossal’s Scientific Advisory Board and lead paleogeneticist on the project. “Having focused on genetic advancements in ancient DNA for my entire career and as the first to fully sequence the Dodo’s genome, I am thrilled to collaborate with Colossal and the people of Mauritius on the de-extinction and eventual re-wilding of the Dodo. I particularly look forward to furthering genetic rescue tools focused on birds and avian conservation.”
The dodo is the third animal Colossal is hoping to de-extinct. Along with the woolly mammoth, it’s working on bringing back the Tasmanian tiger.
Dodos formerly lived on the island of Mauritius, near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. They were a little over three feet tall and weighed up to 39 pounds. While there are plenty of drawings of the flightless birds, little is known about them.
As part of the funding announcement, Colossal also gave an update on its woolly mammoth project. At present there are more than 40 scientists working on the de-extinction of the species, which the company has described as “the cuddly version of a velociraptor,” noting they were vegetarian and not threatening.
That team has sequenced high-quality reference genomes for African and Asian elephants and artificially derived stem cells from both, which will be used for in-vitro embryogenesis, an important step in bringing the mammoth back. The company hopes to fuse the DNA of mammoths that has been frozen in ice for thousands of years with that of modern Asian elephants.
While bringing back creatures like the dodo and woolly mammoth might turn heads, Colossal says its work will be just as important in helping the medical and environmental fields.
“Genetic technologies are already protecting us and our food sources from infectious and inherited diseases,” said George Church, cofounder of Colossal. “A society embracing endangered and extinct gene variants is one poised to address many practical obstacles and opportunities in carbon sequestration, nutrition, and new materials.”
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