If you have been following our work you will know that advances in DNA and genetic science are holding out the tantalizing possibility of bringing extinct species back to life. That effort may have attracted funding from America’s intelligence community.
We have reported frequently about current efforts to revive the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) and we have reported that Chinese scientists are claiming a major advance in DNA replication. That success may make the efforts to reverse extinction easier.
Now comes news that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States is putting some money into the project. The checks don’t say “CIA” on them and the agency never comments. However, according to United Kingdom based The Mirror the CIA is backing Colossal Biosciences through a third-party, In-Q-Tel, which allegedly works more or less directly with the agency. Colossal says its mission is to resurrect mammoths and other extinct animals. It is backed by billionaire and celebrity backers, In-Q-Tel says its mission is to develop cutting edge technologies with American national security in mind.
It appears to be a case of conservation creating strange bedfellows. Colossal Bioscience has been advancing the project for several years. The stated reasons include protecting threatened species from extinction and the advance of “colossal” DNA science. The Intelligence agency appears to be more concerned about advancing US understanding and control of the science behind such efforts. Critics say the money and time and science involved is better spent on trying to save currently endangered species. Some see grandstanding and publicity as motivations.
The idea of ending extinction was pure science fiction until recently. It is still difficult. Efforts to resurrect Tasmanian Tigers show the difficulty. Scientists will need viable DNA from the extinct creatures, which vanished in 1936. They will need to use a small marsupial, closely related to the Thylacine, as a surrogate. That animal is the fat-tailed dunnart, about the size of a mouse. Very much smaller than a thylacine. They will have to splice and dice to create what will actually be a hybrid (thus actually new) life form. Thylacine DNA is scarce and the challenge of getting a large marsupial out of a tiny one will require outside incubation.
By contrast many permanently frozen mammoths have been found. In addition scientists estimate that Asian elephants share about 99.9 percent of the mammoth’s genes. So the DNA and the surrogate are at hand. Because of the surrogacy involved it will not quite be a wooly mammoth.
The Mirror quoted backers:
“Colossal’s landmark de-extinction project will be the resurrection of the Woolly Mammoth – or more specifically a cold-resistant elephant with all of the core biological traits of the Woolly Mammoth.
“It will walk like a Woolly Mammoth, look like one, sound like one, but most importantly it will be able to inhabit the same ecosystem previously abandoned by the Mammoth’s extinction.”
Reintroducing elephants into the Arctic north will present challenges. Even Colossal Biosciences admits we do not know the impacts of such a reintroduction.
In addition to mammoths and thylacines efforts are being considered to revive the Dodo Bird. Other species may possibly be added to revival lists. The Dodo went extinct in less than 100 years. Europeans landed in the islands it inhabited in the 16th Century and invasive species quickly wiped it out. Revive and Restore recently announced the bird’s DNA has been sequenced, leading to the possibility of restoration The group is also trying to revive the Passenger Pigeon. That American bird once literally filled the skies but was completely extinct by September, 1914.