The Journal Gazette
Saturday, September 18, 2021 1:00 am

'Disruptive conservation,' or biology run amok?

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

In a move reminiscent of the “Jurassic Park” film franchise, a Harvard geneticist has plans to bring back a long-extinct species – sort of.

George Church helped found Colossal, a startup with a multimillion-dollar bankroll and goal of creating a new animal similar to the woolly mammoth using Asian elephant DNA.

Researchers plan to edit elephant genes, adding traits for things such as thick hair and fat for protection from the cold, the New York Times reported this week.

They have $15 million in funding and hope to produce mammoth-elephant embryos within a few years and eventually create entire populations to live on the Siberian tundra.

What could go wrong?

The “Jurassic Park” movies featured people-eating dinosaurs created by mixing dinosaur DNA with genes from other animals. Mammoths are unlikely to nosh on humans – they were herbivores – but bioethicists have questioned whether it's humane to resurrect an animal whose biology is little-known.

Researchers claim mammoths helped maintain grasslands “by breaking up moss, knocking down trees and providing fertilizer with their droppings,” the Times reported.

“Our goal is in the successful de-extinction of inter-breedable herds of mammoths that we can leverage in the rewilding of the Arctic. And then we want to leverage those technologies for what we're calling thoughtful, disruptive conservation,” Colossal CEO Ben Lamm told CNBC.

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