Tech entrepreneur Benn Lamm and Harvard geneticist George Church have teamed up to officially get the ball rolling on plans to revive the fabled woolly mammoth.
Their business venture just announced its launch and shared the news they have already rallied in more than $15 million to get the project up and running, and if things go according to their plan they could potentially produce a lab grown woolly mammoth calf in as little as six years.
Woolly mammoths have been mostly extinct for 10,000 years, however a few pockets of mammoth populations are believed to have held out up until 4,000 years ago.
This business venture reportedly first started to grow a little over two years ago when Lamm reached out to schedule a meeting with Church at his lab in Boston. That meeting paved the way for the foundation of a new start up venture named Colossal, which is spearheaded by the the two men.
The goal of the startup is simple and crazy at the time: Create a new type of animal similar to the extinct wooly mammoth by genetically engineering endangered Asian elephants to withstand Arctic temperatures.
From a DNA standpoint, Asian elephants and woolly mammoths are actually strikingly similar. According to Church, the calf would look and act like a woolly mammoth and would be able to withstand environmental conditions in places like northern Canada, Alaska, and Siberia.
Ideas for reviving woolly mammoths have been kicked around for years, but there had never been enough financial support to get things off the ground. But now, thanks to $15 million in seed funding from a variety of investors the idea now a legitimate company with Lamm serving as CEO.
Welcome to a new dawn of genetics. The @ItIsColossal team is thrilled to bring you a brighter future through #deextinction efforts to help restore lost ecosystems.
Church said that he’s been working on the idea for a long time but there was always more curiosity and interest in the idea than there was actual financial support for it. Until now that is. Church also firmly believes the idea is possible, mainly because he has experience rearing genetically modified pigs in his laboratory and has refined the extremely complicated process.
“We had about $100,000 over the last 15 years, which is way, way less than any other project in my lab, but not through lack of enthusiasm.
It is by far the favorite story. We’ve never done a press release on it in all those years. It just comes up naturally in conversation.”
Church is not just a wooly mammoth enthusiast though. He’s a professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and a faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. He has more than 100 patents to his name and has started more than 20 companies.
He said for years the mammoth project was nothing more than just dreaming and talking, but that all started to change about two years ago after that meeting with Lamm.
“Ben came out of the blue, I think inspired at a distance from what he was reading about this very charismatic project, which was very underfunded.”
As far as the timeline of creating the mammoth calf within six years, Church admits the timeline is somewhat aggressive but also realistic.
“When people used to ask me that question, I said, ‘I have no idea. We don’t have any funding.’ But now, I can’t dodge it. I would say six is not out of the question.”
Lamm is excited about where the project is heading and has big plans for bringing Church’s ideas to life.
“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.”
Support for the idea of “rewilding the Arctic” is founded on the idea that large animals like mammoths could help repack the melting permafrost thereby reducing the associated gas emissions and slowing the impact of climate change.
Colossal is just the latest venture for Lamm, who has founded, led, and sold multiple startup companies, most recently an artificial intelligence company called Hypergiant.
Though Colossal is techincally for-profit company, none of the investors are focused on monetizing the operation right now. The group of investors includes the Winklevoss twins of Facebook and Olympic fame. Another one of the investors is Richard Garriott who recently spent $30 million to visit outer space as a tourist. Garriott also serves as an advisor on the project.
The issue of bringing species like woolly mammoth’s back from extinction was a major topic of discussion on his podcast when Joe Rogan was joined by Forrest Galante, the same expert on extinct wildlife that he discussed the legendaryTasmanian tiger with.