De-extinction, once relegated to the realms of science fiction, has become a tangible possibility according to those at Colossal Laboratories and Biosciences. Recent advancements in bioinformatics and DNA sequencing are revolutionising de-extinction projects around the world.
Colossal Labs brands itself as the premier de-extinction company. They believe that conservation, preservation, reintroduction, and, most importantly, the de-extinction of keystone species are crucial tools in the battle against climate change.
First on their list for de-extinction? The Woolly Mammoth. Well, not quite. Scientists at Form Bio, a synthetic biology company formed through Colossal Labs’ 2022 conference, seek to implant recovered mammoth DNA into Asian Elephant embryos.
Asian elephants share 99.96% of their DNA with Woolly Mammoths, which were extinct across much of its range by the Holocene epoch between 14,000 to 10,000 years ago. Identifying that 0.04% is crucial to the revival of the mammoth and creating an animal suited for sub-arctic conditions.
The genomes responsible for long hair, cold resistance, and increased lipocyte (fat) cell density have already been recovered from frozen specimens pulled from Siberian ice. In total, 3.1 billion letters of mammoth genetic code have been sequenced, enough letters to write 6888 novels.
To achieve this, scientists would usually use CRISPR/Cas9, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, to alter DNA by purposely cutting strands to initiate natural biological repair processes.
As the industry standard, CRISPR demands biologists gain relatively high levels of bioinformatic coding proficiency—not a biologist's natural forte. Form Bio aims to change this.
Instead of Crispr, Form Bio achieved the rapidity of their sequencing through the use of their pioneering bioinformatics software. The software utilises computational pipelines to analyse vast quantities of data while visual aids streamline the interface, drastically shortening biologists’ decision-making.
“Our platform is a one-stop shop for all things data management, visualisation, analysis, workflows, and collaboration,” said Form Bio’s MarCom Director, Olvia Stern.
For Crispr software invented in 1987, a year where Zelda 2 (the best selling game) was in 8-bit, Form Bio’s Crispr augmentations are revolutionary. Colossal Labs, Form Bio’s parent company, certainly agrees, promising $150 million in further funding and adding to the $60 million they raised previously.
Their belief in the mammoth isn’t driven aesthetically either. Research suggests reintroduction of the mammoth and other herbivorous megafauna is vital to the restoration of the mammoth steppe,a crucial habitat in the battle against climate change.
Through snow compaction via grazing, large herbivores remove shrubs and bushes, encouraging earth cooling. Subterranean permafrost, which would have otherwise thawed due to snow insulation, remains frozen and trapped underground. Melting permafrost contains high levels of methane, a greenhouse gas four times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Russian geophysicist Sergey Zimov founded Pleistocene Park, a wildlife preserve in the Siberian wilderness, with the express aim of studying this theory.
“Without self-regulating ecosystems, life on the planet can’t be sustainable,” he said, speaking to revive and restore.
“The introduction of animals on pastures cools permafrost temperatures by 40C, which can stop or substantially slow down permafrost degradation”.
So far, Mr. Zimov has released eleven large herbivores into the 200-acre Siberian reserve including reindeer, Bactrian Camels, Muskox, and Wisent. In lieu of mammoths, tractors are used to clear trees, stimulating megafauna forest clearance effects.
“The introduction of animals on pastures cools permafrost temperatures by 40C, which can stop or substantially slow down permafrost degradation.”
Genetically engineered mammoths would accelerate this process, recreating the mammoth steppe which Colossal Labs have deemed essential for the avoidance of climate change. Should this come to pass, Form Bio’s advancements in DNA sequencing technology may prove a vital stepping point in the mammoth’s revival.
Edited by: Alanna Fullerton
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