A ‘De-Extinction’ Company Aims to Revive the Iconic Dodo Bird
Colossal Biosciences on Jan. 31 announced it would revive the extinct dodo bird. And as you can imagine, this is no small feat. But the de-extinction science powerhouse has received $150 million in funding to aid its efforts.
Beth Shapiro, the lead paleontologist and scientific advisory board member at Colossal Biosciences, said, “this announcement is the start of this project.”
Shapiro is also a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California and has researched the Dodo for quite some time. In 2002 she reported that her team had extracted a small piece of the bird’s mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).
Genetic engineering company plans to “de-extinct” dodo bird. pic.twitter.com/HV7yRxsIm0
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MtDNA is the DNA found in cells and is passed from mother to offspring. That tiny piece of mtDNA showed that the Nicobar pigeon is the closest living relation to the Dodo.
In 2022, Shapiro revealed that she, alongside her team at U.C. Santa Cruz, had reconstructed the Dodo’s entire genome.
The reconstructed genome would then be inserted into an egg cell of a related species to develop. It is a meticulous process that must ensure proper development and the successful birth of the offspring.
“The Dodo is a key example of a species that became extinct because we (people) made it impossible for them to thrive in their native habitat,” Shapiro said.
According to Britannica, the last Dodo was killed in 1681. It was first discovered over 500 years ago by Portuguese sailors who arrived at the island of Mauritius, off the African east coast.
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The birds lived in the forests with no large predators, so they evolved to be flightless. Many believed them to be thousands of them but were slow to reproduce, laying one egg a year.
The Dodo Bird
The birds were as large as turkeys, and people hunted them for food. Their eggs were easy targets for monkeys, pigs, and rats that the sailors had brought with them to the island.
She added, “Having focused on genetic advancements in ancient DNA throughout my career and as the first to sequence the Dodo’s genome fully, I am excited to collaborate with Colossal Biosciences and the Mauritian people on the de-extinction and eventual re-wilding of the Dodo. I look forward to furthering genetic rescue tools focused on birds and avian conservation.”
The iconic Dodo was a robust bird with gray features and a perfect whitetail plume. It weighed about fifty pounds and had a unique curved beak.
While birds like vultures, doves, and pigeons are close relatives of the Dodo, the colorful Nicobar pigeon shares the most similarities.
Earlier, Colossal Biosciences announced plans to bring back the extinct Tasmanian Tiger and the Woolly Mammoth. A genuinely ambitious agenda that any other company has yet to undertake.
The Dodo will be the first bird to be under revival. The company stated that its goal is to bring back these creatures for its sake.
It also aims to reintroduce them back to their respective natural habitats, which would help to reestablish normalcy in those environments.
In addition, advances in gene editing and biotech used for de-extinction “will inevitably have utility in the human healthcare field,” said Ben Lamm, co-founder, and CEO of Colossal.
“We’ll be building new tools to enable more complex editing systems, which will advance the art compared to what is available in the healthcare industry,” he added.
The dodo bird is just one of many extinct birds. According to a recent report from BirdLife International, about 165 bird species were extinct.
Still, Colossal Biosciences believes the bird’s significance can inspire researchers and the public to combat the problem that is extinction.