Despite all of the unaddressed humanitarian crises facing the United States alone, one company, Colossal, has decided to raise $15 million in hopes of brining back the woolly mammoth from extinction.
The company, which states on its website that it hopes to combat “the colossal problem of extinction,” has already secured $15 million in funding, per the New York Times. Believed to have gone extinct roughly 10,000 years ago due to warming climates and hunting, Colossal is putting significant resources into bringing the huge animal back to life.
“This is a major milestone for us,” said Harvard scientist and DNA sequencing pioneer George Church. “It’s going to make all the difference in the world.” The company is set to support research at Church’s lab, but it will also conduct experiments at its Boston and Dallas-based labs.
Among one of the company’s first efforts, headed by researcher Eriona Hysolli, will see the company attempt to edit elephant DNA to more closely resemble the mammoth. The plan right now, as lofty as it appears, is to produce embryos of “mammoth-like” elephants within a few years. Eventually, Colossal hopes to release whole herds of woolly mammoths into the wild in the future.
“In principle, one could make 100,000 at once over two years,” said Church, per Stat News. “I’m not saying that’s what we’re going to do, but it’s not necessarily a technical barrier, it’s more financial and willful.” Prior to the $15 million in private funding, the company previously operated on a budget as small as $10,000 a year. While there’s plenty of optimism regarding the company’s ongoing efforts to resurrect a long extinct animal, there’s also the question of ethics in producing an animal that scientists know less about when compared to current similar species of animals.
“I’ve got mixed feelings,” Hank Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University, told Stat News. “Part of me hates the hype in this. But I do think de-extinction is an interesting idea and may well be a useful and worthwhile thing to do. It’s not the answer [to problems like climate change]. It’s not high on my priority list. But it’s cool. And you know, humans do a lot of things just because they’re cool.”
Philospher David DeGrazia, who has produced work that poses questions on animal ethics, suggested it goes against the rights of animals. “Elephants are not just sentient creatures. They’re really smart, they are really self-aware and emotionally complex,” said DeGrazia. “I don’t think we should involve them in experiments that are not in their best interest.”
We’re not going to call it a waste of money, but there are plenty of other things that could use $15 million that deal with the living.