The Sunday Telegraph

Dead as a dodo? Not for long with DNA’s help

Scientists could bring back long-extinct animals, offering insights into how they lived in different eras

- By Sarah Knapton SCIENCE EDITOR

‘We’re like explorers, but instead of going to distant places, we’re going to the distant past’

EXTINCT ANIMALS that are currently unknown to science could be brought back to life through ancient DNA, researcher­s believe.

At Colossal Bioscience­s in Texas, scientists are already well on their way to reviving mammoths, Tasmanian tigers (thylacine) and the dodo, and hope to see the extinct animals roaming wild again within the next decade.

But the team is now delving far deeper into the past, hunting for ancient DNA which could lead to the discovery of entirely new species never found in the fossil record.

In recent years, experts have found fragments of DNA that date back two million years in Greenland, and it is pos- sible that samples could be preserved from even further back in time.

Uncovering long-lost genes or new biological functions that helped animals thrive in warmer environmen­ts could hint at genetic tweaks, drugs or vaccines that could make species more resilient today.

The Greenland samples date from a period when the climate was 15C to 17C hotter and so contain species that had evolved to cope.

Asked whether unknown species could be brought back, Prof Beth Shapiro, chief science officer at Colossal, said: “Absolutely we could do that.

“The past by its very nature is different from anything that exists today and so it is ripe for discoverie­s. We’re like explorers, but instead of going to distant places on the planet, we’re going to the distant past, and we don’t really know what we’re going to find.

“My own academic research lab has discovered a new species of Arctic equid that lived in North America some 700,000 years ago.

“It’s not a horse, it’s not a donkey, but it’s something related to those lineages. We will discover things that the fossil record doesn’t know about and hopefully we can use that informatio­n to resurrect traits in living species that perhaps can help them to adapt to wherever our future is going.”

Colossal, the world’s first de-extinction company, is making nearly £6million ($7.5million) available for research that delves into ancient DNA and hopes to bring scientists together.

The company is already working with researcher­s across the world studying DNA of extinct species such as blue bucks, long-horned bison, Columbian mammoths, and megalocero­s (also known as the Irish elk).

Colossal was founded in 2021 by Harvard geneticist George Church and entreprene­ur Ben Lamm.

Mr Lamm said he was expecting the first “generation one” calves to be born by the end of 2028, through a surrogate mother with gestation taking 22 months.

Gaps in mammoth DNA will be filled in with the genetic material from modern Asian elephants, and the team is working with conservati­onists to find a suitable location for their re-wilding.

“Things are going pretty well,” he said: “We’ve put a date of 2028 for our first ‘gen-one’ mammoth calves. We’ve made significan­t progress: we’re now in the genetic editing phase and we’ve done extensive computatio­nal analysis with over 60 mammoth genomes.”

Asked what success would look like, Lamm added: “In the next 10 years, I think what would be incredible is if we have these three species, the mammoth, the thylacine and the dodo, thriving back in their environmen­ts, as well as the tools we’ve developed being applied to save critically endangered species in the wild.”

Dr Shapiro added: “Being able to reach far back into the past to a period of time where the climate was warmer than it is today can give us some better idea of how communitie­s are organised or how different species have adapted to be able to thrive in different climates.

“It’s not to say that species are necessaril­y going to stop going extinct altogether. But I certainly think that we should have a growing set of resources that we can use to stop species from becoming extinct, that are doing so because of things that we are doing, that people are doing to landscapes.”

 ?? ?? Paleogenet­icist Beth Shapiro and Ben Lamm, the co-founder and CEO of Colossa, who hopes to revive animals such as the dodo
Paleogenet­icist Beth Shapiro and Ben Lamm, the co-founder and CEO of Colossa, who hopes to revive animals such as the dodo

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