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Species Restoration Company Raises $60M in New Funds

Woolly mammoth illustration

Woolly mammoth illustration (Mauricio Antón, Wikimedia Commons.

9 Mar. 2022. A biotechnology start-up aiming to restore extinct animal species with gene editing is raising $60 million in its first venture funding round. Colossal Biosciences in Dallas, a company based on genetics research at Harvard University and elsewhere, is a six-month old enterprise whose first project is restoration of the woolly mammoth, a large extinct prehistoric species.

Colossal Biosciences plans to restore extinct species with Crispr, or clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, a technique for editing genomes based on bacterial defense mechanisms that use RNA to identify and monitor precise locations in DNA. The actual editing of genomes with Crispr uses enzymes such as Crispr-associated protein 9 or Cas9. RNA molecules guide the editing enzymes to specific genes for removal or changes, where the technique is now used for therapies, diagnostics, and genetically engineered plant crops and farm animals.

The company says climate change, chemical pollution, and practices like overfishing and deforestation are accelerating the disappearance of many plant and animal species, with potentially devastating effects on the world’s ecosystems. Colossal Bio says it’s confronting the problem with Crispr and other genetic engineering techniques to restore extinct species as close as possible to their original forms.

Hybrid elephant species with woolly mammoth traits

Colossal Bio’s first project is the woolly mammoth, a large prehistoric mammal that lived in northern tundra regions until extinction, estimated around 1700 BC. While extinct, the woolly mammoth shares an almost identical genome, a 99.6 percent match, with today’s Asian elephant, a now endangered species that inhabited the earth at the same time. As reported by Science & Enterprise in October 2021, Colossal Bio is sequencing the genome of the Asian elephant, as well as African forest and savannah elephants, for reference genomes maintained by the Vertebrate Genomes Project.

Colossal Bio aims to recreate the same basic traits as the woolly mammoth, a cold-resistant herbivore, that can survive in tundra regions like the original. The company plans to edit the Asian and African elephant genomes to produce the genetic code for a cold-resistant elephant hybrid, and later an embryo. Colossal Bio says it will implant the embryo into an African elephant acting as surrogate mother. African elephants are larger and less endangered than the Asian variety.

“We’re making the path to de-extinction and species preservation a reality,” says Colossal Bio co-founder and CEO Ben Lamm in a company statement released through Business Wire, “by bringing the planet one step closer to reversing the downward trend of ecosystem degradation and the staggering loss of biodiversity through cutting edge genetic tools. The technologies and solutions developed through our mammoth restoration project will not only return Arctic elephants to the tundra, but will target larger implications for conservation, science, and humanity.” Harvard Medical School geneticist and serial entrepreneur George Church is also a co-founder of the company.

Colossal Bio is raising $60 million in its first venture financing round, led by early-stage environmental technologies investor At One Ventures in San Francisco and Pittsburgh financier Thomas Tull. Taking part in the round are venture investors and businesses Untamed Planet, Animoca Brands, Breyer Capital, Animal Capital, Bold Capital, First Light Capital Group, Boost VC, Jazz Ventures, Builders VC, Green Sands Equity, Draper Associates, Arch Ventures co-founder Robert Nelsen, and other individuals. The company raised $15 million in seed funds in May 2021.

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