Texas company, Harvard scientist hope to combat climate change by reviving the woolly mammoth

Texas company, Harvard scientist hope to combat climate change by reviving the woolly mammoth

CAMBRIDGE -- A Texas company and a Harvard scientist are trying to make science fiction a reality by bringing back a massive, extinct species to roam the earth again. 

Decades after Jurassic Park hit bookshelves and movie screens, Texas-based Colossal is working to resurrect -- not dinosaurs -- but woolly mammoths. 

"I just fell in love with the idea of the project," said Colossal CEO Ben Lamm. 

He is teaming up with renowned Harvard scientist George Church to bring the mammoths back to life. 

"I reached out to George Church at Harvard University a little over three and a half years ago," Lamm said. "His passion and his tone changed completely when he started talking about de-extinction and the mammoth." 

Lamm said there aren't any scientific barriers to what they're trying to do. 

"For the first part, we actually have sequenced genomes from various mammoths' DNA that's been collected over the years," Lamm said. "That process is to really understand the genome and how it relates to its closest phylogenetic relative being the Asian elephant. The Asian elephant is actually 99.6% genetically identical to the woolly mammoth."

All that gene splicing and dicing will be done by something called CRISPR, a revolutionary editing tool for genomes. 

Lamm said the real challenge will be gestation. 

"We could do surrogacy, we prefer exo-utero development," he explained. "We're about four to six years away from our first calves."

Colossal claims the reason behind this gargantuan mission is to combat climate change.

"You could actually lower the temperature of the permafrost anywhere from half a degree to anywhere up to 10 degrees," said Lamm.

They already have a plot of land picked out for the mammoths in Siberia.

Trees breath in carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the air. But in this case, the mammoths would actually knock down the trees creating more spots for grasslands. 

Grasslands are pretty good at storing carbon in their roots. The elephant-like creatures would then pack the snow deeper, acting as an insulator. 

All of this is to help prevent the melting of permafrost, which releases harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

Still, the big question: is bringing back an extinct species really a good idea? 

"We are in the world of synthetic biology. These tools exist. It's hard to put the genie back in the bottle. We need to be really thoughtful about the intended and unintended consequences of our actions," said Lamm. 

Because of the mammoths' size, Lamm said they would be pretty easy to roll back if something went wrong. He worries more about other groups that could bring back ancient insects or other small species. 

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