The dodo bird, a once-big, flightless avian delicacy, met its end in 1662, a mere 150 years after European ships discovered Mauritius. Colossal Biosciences, a US biotech company, has set its sights on resurrecting this extinct creature, marking it as the third species in its ambitious de-extinction endeavors. The Austin-based startup, backed by substantial funding and boasting a scientific team of 41 PhD scientists, believes its projects could have profound implications for both animal conservation and human health.
Colossal’s CEO, Ben Lamm, envisions a future where modern technology, akin to that of Jurassic Park, facilitates the revival of lost species. The company, in addition to the dodo, is working on transforming modern elephants into woolly mammoths and bringing back the Tasmanian tiger. The process involves large-scale genome engineering, incorporating ancient DNA sequencing, cloning, and even artificial wombs.
The resurrection of the dodo became a theoretical possibility thanks to the efforts of Beth Shapiro, an ancient DNA specialist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Shapiro, now advising Colossal, successfully extracted detailed DNA information from 500-year-old dodo remains in Denmark.
To recreate the dodo, Colossal plans to modify the Nicobar pigeon, the bird’s closest living relative. This step-by-step transformation aims to rewild the creature in its native habitat. However, challenges abound. The number of DNA changes required to morph the Nicobar pigeon into a dodo remains uncertain, with experts questioning the extent of genetic editing needed.
Even if Colossal succeeds in creating a “functional proxy for the dodo,” ethical and environmental dilemmas arise. Placing the revived species in its native Mauritius, dominated by sugarcane farming and non-native predators, poses significant challenges.
The company has not set a firm timeline for the dodo’s revival, emphasizing the scientific complexity involved. Lamm predicts the mammoth’s arrival before 2029, with the dodo’s timeline dependent on scientific factors.
Revive & Restore, a nonprofit organization, has been working on resurrecting the passenger pigeon for a decade, facing similar technical challenges. The difficulty lies in turning gene-edited bird cells into a bird, a process complicated by the unique nature of bird eggs.
Despite skepticism within the scientific community, including Shapiro’s initial doubts, de-extinction is gaining traction as a tool for scientific public relations. The potential applications extend beyond resurrecting extinct species to aiding the conservation of endangered ones, leveraging gene editing and assisted reproduction.
Colossal’s path to profitability remains uncertain, with potential revenue streams including selling tickets to see its revived animals and commercial applications of the technologies developed. The company’s spinout, Form Bio, is already selling software for managing lab results and studying the dodo genome.
As Colossal pushes the boundaries of biotechnology, the outcome remains uncertain, but the allure of resurrecting iconic species like the dodo captivates imaginations and sparks discussions on the future of conservation and genetic engineering.