How can the extinct dodo bird be resurrected?
Genetic engineering company named Colossal Biosciences is attempting to do so. It is currently developing technologies to bring back extinct species. Despite the fact that the company has attracted more investors, scientists remain sceptical of such feats. On Tuesday, the company announced its ambitious plan to resurrect the extinct dodo bird as a part of its “de-extinction efforts,” reported Associated Press.
Ben Lamm, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder and CEO of Colossal said, “The dodo is a symbol of man-made extinction.” The Dallas-based firm announced an extra $150 million (~Rs 1,229 crore) in fundraising. To date, it has received $225 million (~Rs 1,843 crore) in funding from a diverse group of investors, including the United States Innovative Technology Fund, Breyer Capital, and In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm that invests in technology.
“The prospect of bringing the dodo back isn’t expected to directly make money, but the genetic tools and equipment that the company develops to try to do it may have other uses, including for human health care,” he said. For example, Colossal is now testing tools to tweak several parts of the genome simultaneously. It’s also working on technologies for what is sometimes called an “artificial womb,” he explained.
As per The Guardian, scientists can now examine the bird’s DNA for crucial features they believe they may later effectively rebuild within the body of a living relative. Beth Shapiro, lead palaeogeneticist at Colossal told AP that the dodo’s closest living relative is the Nicobar pigeon. Her team plans to study DNA differences between the two to understand what the genes that distinguish the dodo are. The team may then try to alter Nicobar pigeon cells to look like dodo cells.
According to Shapiro, it may be possible to insert the modified cells into developing eggs of other birds, like pigeons or chickens, to produce offspring that will naturally produce dodo eggs. For dodos, the concept is still in its initial conceptual phases. Shapiro stated that “it’s not conceivable to rebuild a 100% identical replica of something that’s gone” since animals are a result of both their DNA and their environment, which has changed considerably since the 1600s.
In comparison to gene-editing with mammalian species, it would be “less stressful” with egg-laying bird, according to The Guardian. The report explains that in the case of mammals, the approach entails inserting gene-editing material into the reproductive system of an existing relative, such as an elephant. In practice, it may take several pregnancies to produce viable children using this procedure.
Thus, it would be noteworthy if Colossal manages to be successful in its plan to revive the dodo bird as no one has yet managed to use gene editing for birds in a similar manner. Prof Ewan Birney, deputy director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, who was not associated with Colossal’s study, told The Guardian that recreating the dodo genome would be “very very challenging” on a technical level.
As per Britannica.com, the last dodo was killed in 1681. More than five centuries ago, Portuguese sailors found the dodo on the island of Mauritius, off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. According to the site, the birds, which were larger than turkeys, were killed for food. Dodo eggs were eaten by pigs and other animals brought to the island. “The dodo is a prime example of a species that became extinct because we—people—made it difficult for them to exist in their native habitat,” said Beth Shapiro in a statement, according to USA Today.
The utilisation of gene editing and biotech developments for extinction “will inevitably have utility in the human healthcare field,” Lamm said according to USA Today. CRISPR gene editing technology is already being used to fix genetic mutations detected in diseases.