Colossal grabs $60 million Series A for moonshot mammoth project – TechCrunch

Colossal, the company known for its mission to revive a woolly mammoth (or at least an elephant with some very mammoth-like features), is back with $60 million in Series A funding. But despite fanfare and money, there isn’t much scientific progress to report.

Colossal is spun from the work of George Church, one of the creators of the Human Genome Project and a geneticist at Harvard and MIT. Church can look back on both scientific success and unusual ideas. For example, while the rest of the scientific world has used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to target the disease on one or two genes at a time, it has plunged headfirst into editing multiple genes, with goals like Processing of pig embryos to create viable organs for human transplants.

Church’s lab has also been trying to resuscitate a woolly mammoth ever since at least 2017, theorized that with the right combination of genetic optimization and reproductive technologies, this familiar megafauna could re-emerge.

Colossal is basically built around getting the mammoth moonshot. It has a sponsored research agreement with Church’s Lab. But mammoths probably not the key selling point for investors interested in Colossal. As co-founder and CEO Ben Lamm told TechCrunch, it’s the technology the company is developing on its journey to this mammoth that’s truly monetizable. This technology ranges from artificial wombs to stem cell lines to computational biology software.

“The business objective on the road to mammoth is the development of these technologies, which we believe have larger applications in human healthcare,” he told TechCrunch. The goal here would be to spin off a few techs to generate new revenue streams and offset expenses from other branches of the mammoth experiment.

It’s hard to overstate how difficult biologically exterminating a mammoth really is, even when you dissect every tiny piece of it. So far there has been little scientific progress to report.

The first key element of “de-extinction” is having a complete genome for the creature in question. We have this genome for mammoths found conserved with soft DNA bits still intact. This DNA is a good start, but it’s little more than an instruction manual.

From there, they have to take Asian elephant cells and tweak them gene by gene using CRISPR until they resemble something like an Asian elephant-mammoth hybrid. Church’s Lab has made progress in this regard: In 2017the team reported that they had altered 45 genes in Asian elephant cells.

George Church at New York’s TechFest in 2016.

Next, Colossal must invent nearly all of the tools needed for these large-scale adaptations, and actually give birth to a hybrid elephant. These inventions are far away.

First, the company has developed a series of African elephant-induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs) that can be programmed into any cell in the body, Lamm says. Lamm also said the company plans to release data on this “in the next few months,” but none of it is public at this time.

But to create a mammoth, the company must do the same for Asian elephants, which it hasn’t done yet. “We’ve developed the precursor to IPSCs for Asian elephants and are pretty close,” he said.

Since then, Colossal has been working on an internal software product, says Lamm. Details on this are very sparse, but he described the software as a “no-code biology platform”. Lamm described the product vaguely. But it appears to be a prototype that should allow for easier “genotype-to-phenotype” searching. In theory, it should help perform the computational biology needed to link specific genes to specific traits, a necessary piece of the de-extinction puzzle.

A mammoth carcass preserved by ice. Exhibited in Moscow.

But once again, Lamm says that this software is just a prototype. He estimates that the company will have something to show the public by the third quarter of 2022.

Finally, there is the puzzle piece of the artificial womb. There was a lot of attitude on that front, but not a lot of science. According to Lamm, the company has started to build the embryologist and ex utero team.

“We don’t rely on embryos or functional tests on edits or anything like that,” he said. But the company still believes it’s on track to make 15 of the 45 gene modifications it’s targeting anyway.

“We think we’ll be done with 15 of them this year and we’re on track to do that,” he continued.

When these scientific tools materialize – and that’s a big if – there is definitely a need for them. According to a, one million plant and animal species are currently threatened with extinction landmark UN biodiversity report issued in 2019. Creating tools to not only “wipe out” dead species, but to help restore species that are still alive could prove very powerful in the future.

Lamm acknowledged that Colossal is interested in applying his tools (once created) to these animals. According to Lamm, the company is beginning computational biology work on a secondary species, the northern white rhino. There are only two female northern white rhinos alive today.

“We’re looking very closely at northern white rhinos as a component of that and starting some work on computational biology and sequencing of rhinos,” he said. “I think that’s just as important as the de-extinction aspects of our work. So selfish I think we have enough capital and we have the right investors behind it to support this as part of our mission.”

But the mammoth project remains the North Star of Colossal.

For now, Colossal’s more tangible achievements are focused on building out infrastructure and enterprise intelligence. The company has hired a head of animal operations and has begun establishing an embryology and ex utero development team. The company employs 48 people, Lamm said.

Colossal has also accelerated laboratory construction projects. The company has three operational labs, including Church’s, and is building a fourth. This lab will be based in Dallas and will focus on stem cell biology and gene editing.

This Series A round includes investments from Thomas Tull and At One Ventures with participation from Untamed Planet, Animoca Brands, Breyer Capital, Animal Capital, Arch Ventures co-founder Robert Nelsen, Paris Hilton, Bold Capital, First Light Capital Group, Boost VC, Jazz Ventures, Builders VC, Green Sands Equity, Draper Associates, Charles Hoskinson and others. This brings the company’s total funding to $75 million.

Maybe that $75 million and the new hires will lead to huge scientific advances. Lamm said the funding should provide enough runway to bring the company to the viable embryo stage. But for now, the mammoth remains as elusive and definitely dead as ever.

Colossal grabs $60 million Series A for moonshot mammoth project – TechCrunch Source link Colossal grabs $60 million Series A for moonshot mammoth project – TechCrunch

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