Colossal Biosciences, a biotech company, says it will try to revive the dodo through gene editing.
This is the last attempt to revive extinct animals in the face of the biodiversity crisis.
Other projects include bringing back the Tasmanian wolf and the woolly mammoth.
Billion-dollar startup Colossal Biosciences claims it has come one step closer to reviving the dodo, a flightless bird extinct since the 17th century.
The futuristic plan is only possible now that the Dallas-based company has cracked the dodo’s full genome, according to a press release.
The bird is the last of the collection of missing animals that scientists want to revive. The startup has previously said that it plans to recreate the Tasmanian wolf and the woolly mammoth.
Much remains to be done before these birds can be recovered. Scientists can’t recreate life from scratch, so they’ll have to find 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, such as the Nicobar pigeon and the Rodrigues solitaire, an extinct flightless giant pigeon, to discover the mutations that “turn a dodo into 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 humans wiped them out.
A bird created using this approach would be a hybrid that resembles 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, the company has raised another $150 million for the project for a total of $225 million since 2021. According to Bloomberg, the latest investment values the startup at $1.5 billion.
There are obvious ethical questions when thinking about creating a species with the goal of releasing it into the wild, Birney said.
“There are people who think 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 says that bringing these animals back is not their only goal.
These grand schemes also serve as a moonshot for conservation research and the hope is that useful tools may be discovered along the way to help animals survive the current biodiversity crisis, he said.
“Clearly we are in the middle of an extinction crisis. And it’s our responsibility to bring stories and move people in a way that motivates them to think about the extinction crisis that’s happening right now,” Shapiro told CNN.
“I particularly look forward to promoting bird-focused genetic rescue tools and bird conservation,” he said.
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