AP

Bring back dodo? Ambitious plan draws investors, critics

Jan 31, 2023, 10:48 AM | Updated: 11:05 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The dodo bird isn’t coming back anytime soon. Nor is the woolly mammoth. But a company working on technologies to bring back extinct species has attracted more investors, while other scientists are skeptical such feats are possible or a good idea.

Colossal Biosciences first announced its ambitious plan to revive the woolly mammoth two years ago, and on Tuesday said it wanted to bring back the dodo bird, too.

“The dodo is a symbol of man-made extinction,” said Ben Lamm, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder and CEO of Colossal. The company has formed a division to focus on bird-related genetic technologies.

The last dodo, a flightless bird about the size of a turkey, was killed in 1681 on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

The Dallas company, which launched in 2021, also announced Tuesday it had raised an additional $150 million in funding. To date, it has raised $225 million from wide-ranging investors that include United States Innovative Technology Fund, Breyer Capital and In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm which invests in technology.

The prospect of bringing the dodo back isn’t expected to directly make money, said Lamm. But the genetic tools and equipment that the company develops to try to do it may have other uses, including for human health care, he said.

For example, Colossal is now testing tools to tweak several parts of the genome simultaneously. It’s also working on technologies for what is sometimes called an “artificial womb,” he said.

The dodo’s closest living relative is the Nicobar pigeon, said Beth Shapiro, a molecular biologist on Colossal’s scientific advisory board, who has been studying the dodo for two decades. Shapiro is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports The Associated Press’ Health and Science Department.

Her team plans to study DNA differences between the Nicobar pigeon and the dodo to understand “what are the genes that really make a dodo a dodo,” she said.

The team may then attempt to edit Nicobar pigeon cells to make them resemble dodo cells. It may be possible to put the tweaked cells into developing eggs of other birds, such as pigeons or chickens, to create offspring that may in turn naturally produce dodo eggs, said Shapiro. The concept is still in an early theoretical stage for dodos.

Because animals are a product of both their genetics and their environment — which has changed dramatically since the 1600s — Shapiro said that “it’s not possible to recreate a 100% identical copy of something that’s gone.”

Other scientists wonder if it’s even advisable to try, and question whether “de-extinction” diverts attention and money away from efforts to save species still on Earth.

“There’s a real hazard in saying that if we destroy nature, we can just put it back together again — because we can’t,” said Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm, who has no connection to Colossal.

“And where on Earth would you put a woolly mammoth, other than in a cage?” asked Pimm, who noted that the ecosystems where mammoths lived disappeared long ago.

On a practical level, conservation biologists familiar with captive breeding programs say that it can be tricky for zoo-bred animals to ever adapt to the wild.

It helps if they can learn from other wild animals of their kind — an advantage that potential dodos and mammoths won’t have, said Boris Worm, a biologist at the University of Dalhousie in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who has no connection to Colossal.

“Preventing species from going extinct in the first place should be our priority, and in most cases, it’s a lot cheaper,” said Worm.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Near-total abortion ban in Arizona dates back to Civil War era...

Associated Press

Near-total abortion ban dates back to 1864, during the Civil War, before Arizona was a state

The near-total abortion ban resurrected last week by the Arizona Supreme Court dates to 1864, when settlers were encroaching on tribal lands.

52 minutes ago

Tracy Toulou...

Associated Press

How to tackle crime in Indian Country? Empower tribal justice, ex-Justice Department official says

A recently retired director of the Justice Dept. says the federal government hasn't given tribal justice systems equal recognition.

24 hours ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson...

Associated Press

House Speaker Mike Johnson says he will push for aid to Israel and Ukraine this week

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Sunday he will try to advance wartime aid for Israel this week, along with funding for Ukraine.

1 day ago

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally Saturday, March 9, 2024, at Pullman Yards in Atlanta...

Associated Press

US shoots down ‘nearly all’ Iran-launched attack drones as Biden vows support for Israel’s defense

Joe Biden cut short a weekend stay at his beach house to meet with his national security team as Iran launched an attack against Israel.

2 days ago

Protesters in Phoenix shout as they join thousands marching around the Arizona state Capitol after ...

Associated Press

Abortion ruling supercharges Arizona to be an especially important swing state

A ruling this week instituting a near-total abortion ban supercharged Arizona's role, turning it into the most critical battleground.

3 days ago

Follow @ktar923...

Sponsored Content by Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

Sponsored Articles

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

Bring back dodo? Ambitious plan draws investors, critics