May 28, 2022

Colossal, the company best known for its mission to bring the woolly mammoth (or at least an elephant with some very mammoth qualities) back to life, is back with $60 million in Series A funding. But despite the fanfare and money, about the scientific progress is out of the question.

The colossal one was designed by George Church, co-creator of the Human Genome Project and a geneticist at Harvard and MIT. The church has a track record of both scientific breakthroughs and third-party ideas. For example, while the rest of the scientific world has been using the CRISPR genetic editing tool to target one or two genes at a time, it has worked on goals such as editing pig embryos to create viable organs for human use. many genes. Transfer.

Church’s lab has also been trying to resurrect the woolly mammoth since 2017, based on the theory that with the right combination of genetic modifications and breeding practices, this famous megafauna could grow back.

In fact, the giant was built to achieve the ecstasy of the giant moon. He has a sponsored research agreement with Church’s lab. But mammoths are probably not the main selling point for investors interested in Colossal. As co-founder and CEO Ben Lam gaming-updates said, it’s a technology the company is building on its way to a giant that can make real money. This technology ranges from artificial wombs to stem cell lines and computer biology software.

He told gaming-updates: “As we move towards a giant, it’s to develop these technologies that we think have a lot of healthcare applications.” The goal here is to abandon some methods for creating new sources of income and balance the costs of other branches of the giant experiment.

It’s hard to appreciate how biologically complex the giant extinction actually is, even if you break it down to the smallest detail. There is still little scientific progress to report.

The first important part of “extinction recovery” is the complete genome of the creature in question. We have this mammoth genome, which was found to be preserved with fragments of soft DNA intact. This DNA is a good start, but it’s just a guide.

From there, they’ll have to take Asian elephant cells and use CRISPR to replace them gene by gene until they resemble an Asian elephant-mammoth hybrid. Church’s lab has made progress in this regard, with the team reporting in 2017 that they had modified 45 genes in Asian elephant cells.

George Church at The New Yorker Tech Fest in 2016.

What Colossal needs to do next is invent nearly all the tools needed to extensively customize and actually wear out the hybrid elephant in the long run. These inventions are still far away.

First, the company has developed a series of African elephant-inspired pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that can be programmed into any cell in the body, Lamm says. Lam also said the company plans to release data on this “within the next few months,” but none of it is public at this time.

But to produce mammoths, the company would have to do the same for Asian elephants, which hasn’t happened yet. “We have developed IPSC precursors for Asian elephants and we are very close,” he said.

After that, Colossal worked on an internal software product, Lam says. There are few details on this, but he described the software as “a biological platform with no code”. Lam was vague about the product. But it seems to be a prototype that should provide a simple “genotype to phenotype search”. In theory, this should help accomplish the computational biology needed to link certain genes to certain traits, which is a necessary piece of the extinction puzzle.

Huge carcass protected by ice. Shown in Moscow.

But again, Lam says this software is just a prototype. He estimates that the company will have something to see the public in the third quarter of 2022.

Finally, there is the artificial womb piece of the puzzle. Many employees are employed in this area, but few in science. Lam says the company has begun building a team of embryologists and prenatal specialists.

“We don’t do fetal or functional testing for surgeries or anything,” he said. But the company still believes it is on track to make 15 of the 45 gene modifications it intended to do anyway.

“We think we will finish with 15 of them this year and we are well on our way to that,” he continued.

If these scientific instruments get there – and this is very important – they will definitely be needed. According to the 2019 UN Biodiversity Report, one million plant and animal species are currently threatened with extinction. in future.

Lamm admits that Colossal is interested in applying its tools (once created) to these animals. Lam says the company is starting computational biology work on a minor species, the northern white rhino. To date, only two female northern white rhinos have survived.

“We’re watching northern white rhinos very closely as part of this process, and we’re starting to do some computational biology and rhinoceros sequencing work,” he said. “I think this is just as important as the extinction aspects of our work. So selfish, I think we have enough capital and we have the right investors to support it as part of our mission. ,

But the giant remains the polar star of the Vishal project.

Currently, Colossal’s more tangible achievements are focused on building the infrastructure and brainpower of companies. The company has appointed a Head of Animal Department and set about establishing an Embryology and Prenatal Development group. The company employs 48 people, Lamm says.

Colossal has also sped up the construction of labs. The company has three operating laboratories, including a church, and is building a fourth. The lab will be located in Dallas and will focus on stem cell biology and gene editing.

This Series A round includes investments from Thomas Tull and At One Ventures including Untamed Planet, Animoca Brands, Breyer Capital, Animal Capital, Ark Ventures co-founder Robert Nelson, Paris Hilton, Bold Capital, First Light Capital Group, Boost VC, Jazz. Ventures, Builders VC, Green Sands Equity, Draper Associates, Charles Hoskinson and others. Thus, the total amount of financing of the company reaches 75 million dollars.

Perhaps this $75 million and new employees will lead to major scientific advances. Lam said the funding should provide enough runway to take the company to a viable embryo stage. But for now, Vishal is just as elusive and definitely dead as ever.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.