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How to bring the extinct dodo to life

The dodo won't be coming back any time soon.

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How to bring the extinct dodo to life

The dodo won't be coming back any time soon. And neither does the woolly mammoth. But the US company Colossal Biosciences is working to bring such extinct species back to life. The company finds enough investors for this. But there are also scientists who view such projects with skepticism.

Two years ago, Colossal Biosciences of Dallas, Texas, first announced an ambitious plan to bring back the woolly mammoth - now it has declared its intention to bring back the dodo as well. The last dodo, a flightless bird the size of a turkey, was killed in Mauritius in the Indian Ocean in 1681.

"The dodo is a symbol of human-caused extinction," says Ben Lamm, serial entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of Colossal Biosciences. For this purpose, the company set up a department specializing in the genetic engineering of birds.

The company, which was founded in 2021, also announced that it had raised an additional $150 million. To date, it has raised $225 million from numerous investors, including the United States Innovative Technology Fund, investment firm Breyer Capital and In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital firm.

Lamm emphasizes that the Dodo project should not bring in any money directly. But the genetic tools and devices the company is developing for this purpose could have applications in other areas, including human healthcare.

For example, the company is now testing tools that can manipulate multiple parts of the genome simultaneously. Colossal is also working on what he calls “artificial womb” technology.

The dodo's closest living relative is the collared dove, according to Beth Shapiro. The molecular biologist has been researching the dodo for two decades and sits on the Colossal Scientific Advisory Board. Shapiro is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports the AP news agency.

Her team plans to study DNA differences between the collared pigeon and the dodo to understand "which genes really make a dodo a dodo," she says. The team could then try to modify cells in the Ruffed Pigeon to resemble dodo cells.

Potentially, the engineered cells could be inserted into developing eggs of other birds, such as pigeons or chickens, to create offspring that could in turn naturally produce dodo eggs, Shapiro says. The concept is still at an early theoretical stage.

Because animals are both a product of their genetics and their environment - which has changed dramatically since the 1600s - according to Shapiro, "it is not possible to create a 100 percent identical copy of something that no longer exists."

Other scientists question the purpose of the project and question whether reviving extinct species doesn't divert attention and funds from efforts to save species that are still alive.

"There's a huge danger in assuming that we can just put nature back together after we've destroyed it -- because we can't," says ecologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University, North Carolina. "And where on earth would you house a woolly mammoth if not in a cage?" asks Pimm - after all, the ecosystems for mammoths disappeared a long time ago.

Biologists familiar with captive-breeding programs emphasize that such animals can have a hard time ever adapting to the wild. It would be helpful for them to be able to learn from other wild animals of their kind - an advantage that potential dodos and woolly mammoths would not have, emphasizes Boris Worm, biologist at the University of Dalhousie in Halifax: "Our priority should be the extinction of species from the outset prevent it, and in most cases it's a lot cheaper too."

"Aha! Ten minutes of everyday knowledge" is WELT's knowledge podcast. Every Tuesday and Thursday we answer everyday questions from the field of science. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Deezer, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.

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