With climate change and its drastic repercussions affecting an already highly-populated planet, the future of sustainability seems to be in the hands of a few unlikely candidates. A group of several scientists, genetic engineers, and venture capitalists have teamed up to restore lost ecosystems in order to help ensure a habitable planet.
One of their first projects under Colossal is an experimental plan to bring back the ancient and extinct Woolly Mammoth by 2027. Through the power of gene-manipulation software like CRISPR, Colossal, a bioscience and genetics company made up of scientists, philanthropists, tech moguls, and social media stars, are hoping to restore and preserve endangered species.
Colossal was founded by the world-renowned geneticist and serial biotech entrepreneur George Church. Church developed technology to extract mouse embryonic stem cells and served as one of the key initiators behind the Human Genome Project, a database of base pairs of DNA along with a map of identification for all physical and functional genes. Colossal’s latest endeavor to bring back the Woolly Mammoth, among other species, through a $15M oversubscribed seed financially backed by Crypto-giants the Winklevoss twins, Philanthropist Tony Robbins, and TikTok star Josh Richards.
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Traditionally, up-and-coming individuals of influence joined politics or Hollywood to achieve power, influence, and control. But somewhere around Facebook’s founding in 2004, politicians fell out of style, and powerful figures of intelligence moved into the tech sphere, creating social media apps, start-ups, and venture capital firms. The early pioneers of the movement were the Winklevoss twins, who, shortly after their Facebook fallout, invested deeply into cryptocurrency. Estimates of their total collection are between 120,000–170,000 Bitcoins, putting them into the billion-dollar territory and netting nearly 1% of all Bitcoin circulation. Instead of taking the Kennedy family route and venturing into the political sphere, the brothers chose to start Winklevoss Capital. A VC firm focused on funding seed-stage startups, investment projects, and other tech enterprises. Their path to entrepreneurship served as a framework for young influencers, including TikTok influencer Josh Richards.
After gaining a significant following on social media (over 7.2 million followers on Instagram and 25.5 million on TikTok), Richards ventured into the investment world, forming large-capital companies, including clothing labels and energy drinks. The success of the branding led to partnerships with Ellen DeGeneres, Mark Wahlberg, as well as ongoing mentorships from financially savvy stars like Wayne Gretzky and Ashton Kutcher. Richards took his influence a step further than his TikTok counterparts and founded Animal Capital, Gen-Z’s first venture capital firm. The company funded several early investment projects that turned risky decisions into monetary rewards and led to their work with Colossal. The collaboration landed the new firm among a powerhouse of investment icons like Breyer Capital, Global Spectrum Ventures, Winklevoss Capital, and Capital Factory.
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Colossal’s goal of restoring extinct species was brought forth by the developments related to the innovative technology provided by CRISPR. CRISPR is a genetic engineering technique in molecular biology where genomes of living organisms can be modified. The development of the technique earned Jennifer Doudna and Emmanyekke Charpentier a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 but also created controversy among the community. In 2016, CRISPR was utilized by British scientists to genetically modify human embryos. The researchers, however, were forbidden from implanting the embryos back into humans. This led to the work of He Jiankui, a government scientist from China who announced the birth of twin girls featuring edited genomes, Nana and Lulu. The announcement earned him a prison sentence and popularized the controversial catchphrase ‘CRISPR babies’. The development did allow for the U.S. to move forward into clinical trials utilizing CRISPR to treat sickle cell anemia and associated eye disease. The Colossal project would be the first in human history to apply CRISPR technology for the purposes of species de-extinction, beginning with the Woolly Mammoth.
“Never before has humanity been able to harness the power of this technology to rebuild ecosystems, heal our Earth, and preserve its future through the repopulation of extinct animals,” said Lam, CEO, and Co-Founder of Colossal. “In addition to bringing back ancient extinct species that are on the verge of extinction, and restoring animals where humankind had a hand in their demise.”
The Circle of Life
In 2019, the U.N. reported that one million animals, plants, and fungi were all threatened by extinction, with many projected to disappear within decades. As a result, ecosystems dependent on their survival will begin to deteriorate and collapse, impacting human health and livelihoods. This is where Colossal hopes to step in. Through rewilding efforts, extinct species will have the opportunity to return to their original habitats to revitalize lost ecosystems and create a healthier planet. The Woolly Mammoth alone has the potential to revitalize the Arctic grasslands, which hold major climate change-combatting properties, including carbon sequencing, methane suppression, and light reflection.
The restoration process utilizes CRISPR to create a mammoth-elephant hybrid, genetically designed to survive the Arctic. If successful, the result would be a massive technological leap in multiplexed genetic engineering, synthetic biology, and gene therapy. But there is a caveat. Part of the stipulations includes a requirement from Harvard’s Office of Technology Development. While Colossal will be able to commercialize the technologies developed during the course of the research collaboration in a range of defined fields, they will exclude the use of these Harvard technologies in humans. But while humans are off-limits for now, it might be beneficial for Richards, the Winklevoss twins, and even Dr. George Church himself, to watch Jurassic Park one last time to make sure these genetic experiments don’t destroy humanity in the process of trying to restore it.
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Sources: EverythingConnects, CNET, Nerdist, Harvard, ScienceTimes, BusinessWire, History, NYTimes, TradingEducation, Tubefilter, IBTimes, PageSix, TheBlast, VanityFair, JCI, Nature, WashingtonPost
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