'De-Extinction' Company Wants to Bring Back the Dodo Bird

Andrei Tapalaga

Dodo BirdPhoto byWikimedia Commons

Colossal Biosciences, the headline-grabbing, venture-capital-funded de-extinction research powerhouse, announced plans to bring back the dodo on January 31. It's debatable whether "resurrecting" a resemblance of the extinct flightless bird is possible.

The company, founded in 2021 by internet entrepreneur Ben Lamm and Harvard University scientist George Church, initially stated that it would recreate the mammoth. A year later, it announced a similar initiative for the thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger. With the formation of a new Avian Genomics Group and an additional investment of $150 million, the long-extinct dodo has joined the ranks.

The dodo bears a lot of symbolic weight in the world of extinct animals. It was extinct after humans arrived on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius in the mid to late 17th century.

The ungainly bird, which stood approximately one meter tall and weighed 15 to 20 kilos, exemplifies a special type of evolutionary misfortune: it should have been scared of humans, but it wasn't. According to legend, the birds marched up to sailors and didn't flinch while their peers were slaughtered around them. The dodoes, which reproduced by laying a single egg on the ground, were also predated by other species introduced by humans, such as monkeys and rats.

Colossal Biosciences is attempting to solve all of these issues at once.

"We're nowhere near ready to start implanting embryos into surrogates," Lamm says, adding that the company is now working on the cloning methodology required for that operation.

It also features several teams focusing on difficulties in computational biology, cellular engineering, stem cell reprogramming, embryology, protein engineering, and animal husbandry, among other areas of study.

One of the most difficult issues in the dodo's reconstruction is a problem for all avian genetics. With animals, the procedure is similar to that used to create Dolly the sheep, the world's first successfully cloned animal from adult cells. But, as Shapiro points out, "we can't clone birds." Cloning necessitates the availability of an egg cell that is ready for fertilization but has not yet been fertilized.

"A bird egg cell cannot be accessed at the same developmental stage as a mammal egg cell," she explains.

Colossal Biosciences is investigating a method for obtaining avian primordial germ cells (PGCs) from bird eggs. If the method is successful, PGCs from pigeons will be modified to develop into a dodo-like bird.

Aside from behaviour, the dodo proxy must survive in an environment that is vastly different from the one that existed more than 300 years ago, when the dodo became extinct. However, nothing is known about how dodos functioned in their environment. On Mauritius, the birds could only be found in the forests. They didn't have any major predators.

They reproduced slowly, laying only one egg each year. According to historical mariners' accounts, there were once thousands of them. Another barrier to extinction is guaranteeing the well-being of genetically modified dodos.

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