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As data management platforms go, the one developed by Colossal Biosciences stands in its own large petri dish as both innovative and out of the ordinary. After all, how many software tools help develop artificial wombs using genomics and synthetic biology in order to return previously extinct species to the real-world food chain?
Colossal, a year-old Dallas- and Boston-based startup that emerged from stealth status last fall and says it has the goal of reconstituting a clone of the long-extinct woolly mammoth (thus, the company’s name), today announced a $60 million Series A financing infusion led by Thomas Tull and At One Ventures.
While most people may see this as a moon shot, others in the global science, conservation and climate-repair sectors see some credibility here. Read the company’s side of the story before making a final determination on the viability of all this.
The high-level idea is that using synthetic biology to create eggs from DNA originating in fur or bones, in order to bring extinct creatures back to life, isn’t sci-fi anymore. The goal is ambitious and slightly crazy: Colossal aims to create a new type of animal similar to the extinct woolly mammoth by genetically engineering endangered Asian elephants to withstand Arctic temperatures. The company has built a genetics toolkit to enable interested developers to do the scientific work.
Returning such a huge mammal to its natural habitat will indeed benefit the planet and help repair the currently degraded ecosystem, Colossal COO Kent Wakeford told VentureBeat. By maintaining the steppe grassland ecosystem, which absorbs less sunlight than trees, mammoths could help to keep carbon pools and their greenhouse gasses ice-bound for longer.
What’s in the AI dev platform
“The platform we’ve built includes everything from genetic sequencing, putting machine learning on top of, analysis – whether that’s applied for drug discovery, or for therapeutics, or just general research,” Wakeford said. “There are tools for the visualization of data; then we also have predictive models for genetic research. We have included collaborative tools for research.”
Resurrecting the mammoth-like animal is a project that had been kicking around for years, and it got some serious help in 2019 when serial investor Ben Lamm reached out to Harvard University biologist George Church to undertake the project. Church, Lamm, Wakeford and their team started Colossal in 2021 and now have come forth with their highly specialized development platform.
“We’re working with nonprofits, conservation groups, governments, and the general public to develop genetic toolkits and support DNA databases to aid in the restoration, diversification and rewilding of endangered species,” Wakeford said. “This work will also enable comprehensive population-based sequencing and computational analysis of elephants and mammoth genomes, genome editing, and viral disease resistance, as well as ex-vivo development.”
The reproductive technologies Colossal is developing will not only help advance the re-introduction of mammoth-elephant hybrids into the Arctic but will have positive implications for all mammals and allow for a deeper understanding of evolutionary change in countless critical species, Wakeford said.
In addition to expanding the work on the resurrection of the woolly mammoth, this new round of funding will lead to expanded labs and hiring to support the development of breakthrough genetic editing tools, software, and wetware for use in human health and disease prevention, Wakeford said.
“As the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated, scientific innovation – and funding to support it – has never been more important,” Thomas Tull, lead investor in Colossal, said in a media advisory. “Led by visionary geneticist George Church, Colossal has some of the best minds focused on developing breakthrough tools that are poised to have a material impact on science and biotechnology, from the eradication of diseases to the development of new drugs, CRISPR DNA sequencing, and even solving challenges around reproduction.”
The funding round had participation from Untamed Planet, Animoca Brands, Breyer Capital, Animal Capital, Arch Ventures co-founder Robert Nelsen, Paris Hilton, Bold Capital, Boost VC, Jazz Ventures, Builders VC, Green Sands Equity, Draper Associates, Charles Hoskinson, among others, bringing total funding to $75 million, the company said. As part of this next phase of growth, Colossal said it will accelerate hiring across the company’s computational biology, embryology, stem cell biology, software engineering, advanced biology, medical device hardware, and genomics.