THE REWILDING MOVEMENT is full of people attempting to resolve the climate and extinction crises by planting a bunch of saplings, say, or digging a pond. The legendary biological engineer George Church, on the other hand, has a somewhat grander plan: helping save our planet by reviving the woolly mammoth.
Church’s company, Colossal Biosciences—which is backed by some notable technology entrepreneurs and VC firms—plans to edit the genes of the Asian elephant so that they more closely resemble those of their extinct, ancient cousins. The result will be a thoroughly modern mammoth, or, as Church prefers to describe it, an “Arctic elephant.”
By editing DNA in the cells of the closest living relative of the mammoth, Church believes he can “fairly easily” recreate several of the traits that once enabled those beasts to survive very cold temperatures—notably, the dense hair and thick layers of subcutaneous fat. “We’re not de-extincting mammoths,” he explains. “What we’re trying to do is to de-extinct genes.”
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