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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Alexandra Skores

Colossal Biosciences says it’s one step closer to bringing back extinct species

Colossal Biosciences, the Dallas company working to bring back the woolly mammoth and Tasmanian tiger, is one step closer to its ambitious goals after generating the first high-quality reference genome of an African elephant.

The de-extinction company is working in partnership with the Vertebrate Genomes Project to ensure the survival of elephant species. The work illustrates a step forward in animal conservation and the future advances of Colossal’s efforts. Last year, the partnership announced a near complete sequence of the Asian elephant genome.

The woolly mammoth shares 99.6% of DNA with the Asian elephant, according to Colossal.

“We think it’s very important, given that so many species are critically endangered, that we care about monitoring conservation,” said Ben Lamm, founder and CEO of Colossal Biosciences in an interview with The Dallas Morning News.

Eriona Hysolli, head of biological sciences at Colossal, said the references accelerate plans like Colossal’s. This is the second of three big elephant species Colossal is looking at.

“Otherwise, it will take a lot more time and it will be a lot more challenging to compare,” Hysolli said.

African elephants and Asian elephants contribute significantly to species diversity but face a high risk of extinction in the wild. In the past 31 years, according to Colossal, African elephants have decreased by more than 86% and African savanna elephants decreased at least 60% over the last 50 years.

“We are excited to produce high-quality reference genomes for the conservation community,” said Erich Jarvis, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and chair of the Vertebrate Genomes Project in a release. “A good reference genome is needed to research and study any species.”

Lamm said that Colossal feels it is important to build a reference genome, banking cells and embryos to preserve different species.

“We hope that elephants won’t go extinct,” Lamm said. “We hope that humanity can save them. But in the event that they do, we at least want to see that reference data.”

Colossal launched in September 2021 and has since raised $225 million in total funding. In September, the company created a spinoff firm focusing on computational life sciences.

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