A genetic engineering company has bold plans to “de-extinct” and “re-wild” the dodo bird — centuries after the flightless fowl waddled the planet.
Colossal Biosciences unveiled Tuesday its “Jurassic Park”-like goal to bring back the dodo, adding to previous pledges to resurrect two other long-extinct species — the woolly mammoth and the Tasmanian tiger.
The firm’s newly formed Avian Genomics Group will lead the effort to reproduce the dodo, which Colossal said died out “as a direct result of human settlement and ecosystem competition in 1662.”
“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,” said Beth Shapiro, Colossal Biosciences’ lead paleontologist and advisory board member.
Colossal’s founders say the company aims to reverse damage to the dodo’s environment and ecosystem — but its mission could have broader implications for gene editing and other fledgling technology of interest to investors.
“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,” Shapiro added.
The firm’s goal, while unusual, has drawn a roster of notable investors that includes “Thor” star Chris Hemsworth, “Succession” actor Nicholas Braun, Paris Hilton, the CIA’s venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, and other entities.
The firm is valued at $1.5 billion after a recently closed $150 million Series B fundraising round. Participants in its most recent funding round included tech investor and “Jurassic World” producer Thomas Tull’s United States Innovative Technology Fund and Breyer Capital. Colossal has raised $225 million since its debut in September 2021.
Ultimately, Colossal aims to successfully reproduce the dodo and recreate a sustainable habitat for the bird in Mauritius, where it was once found.
Critics of the firm have expressed skepticism about the achievability of its goals, as well as the unknown variables associated with recreating a long-extinct species.
For investors, the “de-extinction” effort is only part of the appeal.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Tull touted the possibility of scientific discoveries as Colossal works through the process.
“Along the lines of being able to bring a species back, we’re going to learn things we can’t learn in a wet lab,” Tull told the outlet. “When you’re doing big things like this, who knows what you’re going to discover along the way.”
Colossal said the latest infusion of cash will help the firm to “continue to advance genetic engineering and pioneer new revolutionary software, wetware and hardware solutions, all of which have applications to de-extinction, conservation and human healthcare.”
The startup has more than 40 scientists and three labs working on its woolly mammoth project and claims it will be able to produce calves by 2028, the firm said. The team working on the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, consists of “30 dedicated scientists” who have “already achieved great progress,” according to a release.
“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,” Colossal geneticist and co-founder George Church said in a statement. I am pleased with our company’s progress across multiple vertebrate species.”
Colossal Biosciences co-founder Ben Lamm told Bloomberg that his firm has a recruiting advantage over rival genetic engineering firms due to its eye-catching goals.
“You can work on yeast or you can work on bringing back an extinct species,” Lamm told the outlet.