How Colossal uses genetic engineering to bring back the woolly mammoth


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As data management platforms go, the one developed by Colossal Biosciences stands in its own large petri dish as both innovative and extraordinary. After all, how many software tools help develop artificial wombs using genomics and synthetic biology to return previously extinct species to the real food chain?

Colossala year-old Dallas-Boston startup that emerged from stealth status last fall and says it aims to restore a clone of the long-extinct woolly mammoth (hence the company’s name), today has a run of $ 60 million announced A financing infusion led by Thomas Tull and At One Ventures.

While most people might see this as a bull’s eye, others in global science, conservation and climate recovery see some credibility in this. Read the company’s side of the story before making a final decision on the viability of it all.

The high-level idea is that using synthetic biology to make eggs from DNA that comes from fur or bones, to bring extinct creatures back to life, is no longer sci-fi. The goal is ambitious and somewhat crazy: Colossal aims to create a new type of animal that resembles the extinct woolly mammoth by genetically engineering endangered Asian elephants to withstand Arctic temperatures. The company has built a genetics toolkit to enable interested developers to do the scientific work.

Returning such a huge mammal to its natural habitat will indeed benefit the planet and help restore the currently degraded ecosystem, Colossal COO Kent Wakeford told VentureBeat. By preserving the steppe grassland ecosystem, which absorbs less sunlight than trees, mammoths could help keep carbon puddles and their greenhouse gases ice-bound for longer.

What’s in the AI ​​development platform

“The platform we’ve built spans everything from genetic sequencing, machine learning, and analysis — whether that’s applied to drug discovery, or therapeutics, or just general research,” Wakeford said. “There are tools for visualizing data; then we also have predictive models for genetic research. We have added research collaboration tools.”

Bringing the mammoth-like animal to life is a project that has been going on for years, and it received serious help in 2019 when serial investor Ben Lamm reached out to Harvard University biologist George Church to carry out the project. . Church, Lamm, Wakeford and their team started Colossal in 2021 and have now come forward with their highly specialized development platform.

“We are working with nonprofits, conservation groups, governments and the general public to develop genetic toolkits and support DNA databases to aid in the recovery, diversification and rewilding of endangered species,” said Wakeford. “This work will also enable comprehensive population-based sequencing and computational analysis of the elephant and mammoth genome, genome editing and resistance to viral diseases, as well as ex vivo development.”

The reproductive technologies that Colossal is developing will not only help promote the reintroduction of mammoth-elephant hybrids in the Arctic, but will have positive implications for all mammals and enable a deeper understanding of evolutionary change in numerous critical species, it said. Wakeford.

In addition to expanding work on the woolly mammoth’s resurrection, this new round of funding will lead to expanded labs and recruiting to support the development of groundbreaking genetic editing tools, software and wetware for use in human health and disease prevention, Wakeford said.

“As the Covid-19 pandemic has shown, scientific innovation – and funding to support it – has never been more important,” Thomas Tull, lead investor in Colossal, said in a media advisory. Led by visionary geneticist George Church, Colossal has some of the brightest minds focused on developing groundbreaking tools that will have a material impact on science and biotechnology, from disease eradication to the development of new drugs, CRISPR DNA sequencing, and even solving reproduction challenges.”

The funding round had participation from Untamed Planet, Animoca Brands, Breyer Capital, Animal Capital, Arch Ventures co-founder Robert Nelsen, Paris Hilton, Bold Capital, Boost VC, Jazz Ventures, Builders VC, Green Sands Equity, Draper Associates, Charles Hoskinson, among other things, bringing total funding to $75 million, the company said. As part of this next phase of growth, Colossal said it will accelerate recruitment in the company’s computer biology, embryology, stem cell biology, software engineering, advanced biology, medical device hardware, and genomics.

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