The Verge reports that a biotech startup named Colossal is working on giving us a new kind of wooly mammoth by adding traits from the extinct animal’s DNA into that of an elephant’s. Before you get too excited about an opportunity to ride one of these giant beasts around, the article also says the project “is in very early stages and is mired in ethical quandaries.”
These quandaries mostly relate to the supposed environmental benefits that Colossal believes its shaggy Frankenstein’s monster could create. The startup’s goal is to “create a hybrid between a wooly mammoth and its distant relative... the Asian elephant, which itself is an endangered species.” The resulting creature would be “a furrier, fatter elephant with smaller ears and a high-domed head.” (To be fair, this thing sounds adorable.)
The idea is that a new mammoth/elephant will help address biodiversity loss, but conservationists question the wisdom of expending effort (and funding) on bringing back long-extinct animals rather than protecting the ones we already have and are in danger. A new type of mammoth might, they point out, also have a tough time fitting in with the non-mutant elephants it might live with and have an equally low chance of successfully living in—and not fucking up—ecosystems that are vastly different now than they were when mammoths went extinct.
Scientists cited in the article believe “this project might steal the spotlight from more important conservation efforts” that could help accomplish more pressing goals related to addressing climate change. This is largely because everyone, even those opposed to Colossal’s work, has to admit that a big new elephant would be pretty neat to see. Probably for that reason alone, wealthy ghouls like Peter Thiel and Tony Robbins have invested in the project rather than put their money toward the kind of potentially apocalypse-avoidant efforts we actually need to avoid Earth’s destruction.
Still, we suppose that if we’re barreling toward global annihilation, a small consolation prize would be seeing a big extinct creature brought back to life before the curtain drops. Maybe, if we’re lucky, Mammoth Mk II will even get to inherit the planet after our demise and forge a new, elephantine civilization that does a better job of things than humanity ever could.
To consider that exciting possibility further, read more about the great maybe-mammoth project at The Verge.
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