Scientists working at a start-up in Texas have raised 15 million dollars worth of funding to bring the woolly mammoth back from extinction. Colossal, a company focusing on the gene-editing technology CRISPR, hopes reintroducing the species to its natural habitat can help slow the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Woolly mammoths share 99.6% of their DNA with Asian elephants, and the scientists are hoping to utilise this similarity combined with artificial wombs, to birth the mammoth embryos. CRISPR technology will be used to alter the DNA of the Asian elephants by giving them mammoth-like features. This is a method of gene editing based on a simplified version of the bacterial CRISPR-Cas9 antiviral defence system.
Woolly mammoths were adapted to the cold climates in the Arctic with fur coats, small ears and high body fat. Colossal hopes the de-extinction and reintroduction of mammoths to the Arctic region can help fight climate change. A site in Russia chosen to contain the woolly mammoths has been nicknamed “Pleistocene Park”. At the site in question, it is hoped the mammoths will help to rewild the area, trampling snow and knocking down trees. This help to reflect more of the Sun’s rays away from the ground, keeping the earth cool and preventing the melting of permafrost. Permafrost under the ground melting could release almost 260 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus exacerbating the greenhouse effect.
It remains to be seen whether Colossal will succeed in their venture. They hope to have a herd of mammoths roaming around the Arctic tundra by 2027 but with this being the first example of de-extinction ever, it could be wishful thinking.