'De-extinction' company to bring back extinct dodo bird to life
As dead as a dodo? Not anymore. Genetic engineering company Colossal Bioscience has received $150 million in new funding to support their "de-extinction" efforts - and along with their ongoing activities of resurrecting the woolly mammoth and the Tasmanian tiger, they've geared up to bring up the extinct Dodo.
"The Dodo is a prime example of a species that became extinct because we – people – made it impossible for them to survive in their native habitat," Beth Shapiro, Ph.D., Colossal Scientific Advisory Board member and lead paleogeneticist, said in a statement.
"Having focused on genetic advancements in ancient DNA for my entire career and as the first to fully sequence the Dodo's genome, I am thrilled to collaborate with Colossal and the people of Mauritius on the de-extinction and eventual re-wilding of the Dodo. I particularly look forward to furthering genetic rescue tools focused on birds and avian conservation," Shapiro added.
The dodo bird went extinct sometime around 1690
The flightless dodo bird hailed from Mauritius and lived "nowhere else" until it met an untimely demise. Though the bird is thought to have laid no more than one egg per year, it was able to maintain a steady population.
The Europeans were said to encounter the bird in 1507. And when they arrived on the island of Mauritius, they introduced species such as rats, goats, pigs, deer, and macaque — that took a liking for dodo bird eggs. The dodo bird's final date of extinction is recorded to be sometime around 1690, according to Colossal Bioscience.
The Dodo was a stout bird with muted gray features and a stark white tail plume. It weighed as much as 50 pounds and had a distinctive curved beak. While doves, vultures, and pigeons are considered to be relatives of the dodo bird, the colorful Nicobar pigeon shares the most ties with the Dodo.
"It has a very undeserved reputation of this clumsy, kind of lumbering, inadequate bird, almost like a soccer ball with some legs under it. Even though it's not going to be the Usain bolt of the animal or the bird kingdom, it has an anatomy that is consistent with much greater agility," said Dr. Leon Claessens, Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution Maastricht University.
The Dodo would be the first bird to return to life
As aforementioned, the company has already embarked on projects to bring up the Tasmanian tiger and the woolly mammoth to life. But the Dodo would be the first bird to be resurrected.
Shapiro told The Guardian that though it was possible to sequence the dead bird's genome as there were hundreds of dodos in collections around the world, the revived Dodo could never replace the extinct bird. "What we are trying to do is to isolate the genes that distinguish the dodo," she told The Guardian. "It would be crazy to think the solution [to the world's biodiversity crisis] was to bring back a proxy."
Not everyone is certain about the work.
Professor Ewan Birney, deputy director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, who was not involved with Colossal's work, told The Guardian that the technical work would be "very, very challenging."
"There is no doubt this is an iconic bird. I've no idea whether the mechanics of this will work as they claim, but the question is not just can you do this, but should you do it? There are people who think that because you can do something, you should, but I'm not sure what purpose it serves and whether this is really the best allocation of resources. We should be saving the species that we have before they go extinct," he told the publication.