The CIA wants to bring the mammoths back to life, and there’s something to marvel at

US intelligence has invested in a company that plans to reintroduce extinct species into the wild. Big progress or false good idea?

The success of natural history museums is largely due to their life-size reconstructions of animals that have now disappeared, such as the famous woolly mammoth. And it’s not just children and nature lovers that are interested; the American company Colossal Biosciences (CB) is even trying to bring them back to life with their DNA. And according to a press release identified by The Intercept, he can now count on financial support from the … CIA.

Colossal Biosciences is a Texas-based company that has set itself a very ambitious goal: to bring extinct animals back to life with great genetic engineering strokes. The main focus is the iconic woolly mammoth, the come ancestor of today’s elephants. But he also plans to work on other famous strains, such as the Tasmanian devil or the dodo.

From fiction to reality

A program that seems straight out of science fiction; and in a way it is. Despite the impressive advances in bioengineering, humans are still unable to create an exact copy of these animals as they existed in their day. But the good news is that there is a clear genetic relationship with today’s elephants.

They therefore hope to reproduce them identically – or almost. Their idea is completely based on CRISPR technology, this famous ” molecular scissors Which revolutionized biology to its very foundations – with a Nobel Prize winner for Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and her counterpart Jennifer Doudna.

© Sangharsh Lohakare

This technology allows you to make incisions in a DNA sequence to remove certain elements or to insert another nucleic acid sequence. Very vulgarly, it is therefore a very powerful tool that allows researchers to modify the genes of a targeted cell to their liking. And that’s exactly what they want to do with elephants.

The sequencing of the mammoth’s first genome in 2008 confirmed that the genetic inheritance of the modern elephant is still very close to that of its furry counterpart, which disappeared some 4,000 years ago. In theory, therefore, it would be possible to compare the two genomes and then transfer the missing genes to an elephant embryo using CRISPR; researchers would then get an elephant genetically very close to its ancestors.

The CIA is pulling its pawns forward

And this work could soon give an edge thanks to a new shareholder like no other: In-Q-Tel. It is in fact a investment fund established and managed directly by the famous Central Intelligence Agency.

When it comes to the CIA, the conversation usually revolves around stories of intelligence, counterintelligence and controversial top secret operations; there is therefore reason to be surprised when reading this information. Why on earth would this agency consider bringing back extinct animals?

In-Q-Tel is the financial arm of the CIA, which uses it to invest in technologies considered promising by US intelligence. © In-Q-Tel

Conspiracy theorists may see this as an attempt to muster an army of super pachyderms, or even a special force made up of mutated combat dodos. But in reality, the CIA has nothing to do with mammoths as such.

The technology behind this process, on the other hand, interests him immensely; it could indeed allow us to reform the living at will. “The next wave of advances in this area will improve our ability to determine the shape and function of organisms on a macroscopic scale,” In-Q-tel explained in his statement.

According to this document, the project has nothing to do with the intelligence services or the military sector. The investment fund explains that these technologies will be used in particular to create the biomaterials of tomorrow, prevent the extinction of endangered species, improve the resistance of crops to climate change, fight pandemics, treat human genetic diseases, etc. . A decidedly heterogeneous list.

A controversial “de-extinction” program.

But before that happens, Colossal must already enter the proof of concept phase. And it will already be an important step, because the company has no intention of doing things by halves. it is not just a question of reviving a single individual, but of reintroducing entire populations into modern ecosystems. In short, a sort of de-extinction.

An approach that is already confusing the hair of many observers. In fact, if it is a fascinating project from a scientific point of view, it must be admitted that the relevance of such a project is more than questionable, for many technical and ethical reasons.

The most obvious reason is that it is no coincidence that these species no longer exist; the mammoth, for example, disappeared at the same rate as its natural habitat … and it simply no longer exists today. And there is no guarantee that it will feel comfortable in our modern tundras, especially as they are visibly melting under the effect of global warming.

Furthermore, growing an entire population from a handful of genetically modified organisms is a very risky operation. It would be impossible to trace them through the inevitable genetic transfers that would occur when they interacted with other species, such as parasites.

And these are just isolated examples; other even more concrete issues will surely emerge in the process. For all these reasons, In-Q-tel and Colossal say they will work with the government to “introduce ethical and technological standards” before rushing headlong into these operations … but the CIA’s unflattering reputation for knowledge of this level, it will certainly take longer to convince the opponents.

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