This technopreneur from the capital wants to resuscitate the woolly mammoth

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Ben Lamm has had elephants on his brain for the past two and a half years. That’s a long way off for the man whose mind evokes NASA’s AI apps, biometric tattoos and Pizza Hut chatbots, but this fall the whole world learned why. Armed with $ 15 million in capital and a gargantuan goal, the serial tech entrepreneur has launched his latest and most ambitious project to date: restoring the woolly mammoth from its 10,000-year-old tomb. .

To be clear, Colossal Laboratories & Biosciences, which will operate laboratories on Lamm Texas territory in Austin and Dallas, as well as in Boston (home base of company co-founder and Harvard geneticist George Church), is not resurrecting. actually the mammoth of the old one. It’s about splicing 60 genes from these ancient behemoths into the DNA of today’s modern Asian elephants to create a hybrid – long shaggy coats and all – which will then be grown in artificial uteri that will be soon to be built. If all goes according to plan, the scientists at Colossal will see their first herd roam the Siberian tundra in less than six years. In doing so, mammoths will trample moss, chop down trees, and expose carbon-sequestering grasslands, theoretically helping to revive the arctic climate change ecosystem. After that, well, Lamm says the possibilities are endless.

You are no stranger to cutting edge technology, but Colossal looks different from your other endeavors with its singular mission and cause. Did that also bring out something different in you?

I have always been in love with the entrepreneurial journey and I like working with people much smarter than me around emerging technologies. But I think I’ve always been more in love with building businesses around tough goals than [I’ve] maybe [been] as also in love with the results of these enterprises. Colossal has the opportunity to massively advance science, engineering, reproductive health, genetic engineering, and also to do good to fight climate change and preserve species. It feeds my soul with curiosity; it nourishes my intellectual soul. In fact, I’ve never been so excited and calm about anything I’ve worked on, and I think the excitement, poise, and peace really reaffirms that it’s part of my goal.

How could resurrecting the mammoth help conservation efforts?

We have this concept that we call “thoughtful and disruptive conservation”. If you go to the genetic rescue of a species – basically, if we build a reference genome for a species – and we keep samples of tissues and cell lines, then we get actual embryos from stem cells, we can take advantage of technology like the artificial womb. that we are developing to make them grow. You are building not only extinction, but the species preservation toolkit.

Could this potentially lead to a biotechnology revolution?

In the 90s, we were all promised gene therapies and synthetic drugs that never really manifested. I think we are starting to see the applications of synthetic biology today. … I think we are at the doorstep of what is possible by leveraging synthetic biology to truly improve the human condition and alleviate various disease states. … [And] I think there is a huge opportunity with artificial uteri, not just to grow mammoths or to grow other extinct species. I think it can be extremely transformative for human health care.

We assume that you have been asked a lot about the jurassic park in all of that. Could you potentially open a scientific Pandora’s box?

A better way to approach the question is: which species are you going to select and why? One of the things that I think is quite important for us to think about is both the utility of bringing back a species and the ecological impact of its return. What do they look like hand in hand? The technologies we are harnessing already exist, so there is no real time to put genius back in the bottle. Big tech will always come with risk, and people can always take advantage of big tech in detrimental ways. That’s not to say that we don’t necessarily have to move them forward or be afraid of them.

It all sounds a bit crazy, but do we need some crazy ideas to tackle climate change?

I think so. If we have underpaid our entire life, maybe we need to tip generously for it. Maybe we need to catch up. And I think it’s an opportunity now.

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