It’s currently not possible to bring back the dodo in the exact form it once was, as the species went extinct in the 17th century and all that remains are remains and descriptions. The business Colossal intends to revive an increasing number of extinct animals through genetic engineering. The latest addition: the dodo.
Colossal’s goal of reintroducing the woolly mammoth in 2021 brought Jurassic Park dreams to life in the real world. The organization, which has headquarters in Boston, Dallas, and Austin, Texas, announced in August 2022 that it also intended to eradicate the Australian thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger.
This new project, announced Tuesday, would bring back a species that’s historically highlighted as a case of how humans can contribute to the extinction of an animal species.
When did the dodo become extinct?
The last dodo was killed in 1681, according to Britannica.com. More than 500 years ago, Portuguese explorers found the dodo on the island of Mauritius, which is located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa.
The birds, which were larger than turkeys, were killed for food, the site says. Pigs and other animals brought to the island ate dodo eggs.
“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, lead paleogeneticist and a member of Colossal’s scientific advisory board, in the announcement.
Shapiro, a professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz, led a group that announced in March 2022 it had sequenced the dodo genome. “I am thrilled to collaborate with Colossal and the people of Mauritius on the de-extinction and eventual re-wilding of the dodo,” she said. “I particularly look forward to furthering genetic rescue tools focused on birds and avian conservation.”
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.Beth Shapiro
How are scientists trying to bring back extinct species like the wooly mammoth?
Colossal’s biotech and genetic engineering teams are fusing elephant and wooly mammoth DNA to construct a subsequent mammoth that can last in the Arctic and aid in the restoration of that habitat.
“These embryos will be implanted into healthy female elephant surrogates with our first calves expected in 5 years,” accounting for the 22-month gestation period, Ben Lamm, co-founder and CEO of Colossal, told U.S. TODAY.
The Tasmanian tiger’s genome and the DNA of other mammals that are related to it are being utilized in a similar procedure to reintroduce the predator to the island off the southeast coast of Australia.
Colossal is creating an Avian Genomics Group to bring back the dodo and, eventually, other extinct bird species “through genetic rescue techniques and its de-extinction toolkit,” the company said in its announcement. Colossal also announced $150 million in investments, boosting to $225 million its funding since the company’s September 2021 debut.
What other benefits might Colossal’s research yield?
Gene editing and biotech advances used for de-extinction “will inevitably have utility in the human healthcare field,” Lamm said. Gene editing technology such as CRISPR is already being used to correct genetic mutations found in diseases.
“We’ll be building new tools to enable more complex editing protocols which will advance the state of the art when compared to what is available in the healthcare industry,” he said.