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Founder Of Mammoth 'De-Extinction' Company Responds To Accusations Of 'Playing God'

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Founder Of Mammoth 'De-Extinction' Company Responds To Accusations Of 'Playing God'

The co-founder of Colossal – a company that wants to bring thousands of woolly mammoths back into the world – has reacted to accusations that his company is ‘playing God’.

Ben Lamm is a technology entrepreneur who – alongside geneticist George Church – wants to bring back the extinct giant, and potentially other species such as the woolly rhino, in order to help the fight against climate change, as well as providing a future to animals that might otherwise go extinct, as the mammoths did around 4,000 years ago.

Without getting too far into the actual science – because it’s really very difficult – this isn’t exactly cloning, rather taking mammoth genetics and putting them into existing Asian elephants, the mammoth’s closest modern day relative.

Outside of the fact that it is – as Lamm puts it – ‘f***ing cool’, it could have a real effect on the future of the planet.

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The idea is that mammoths – as with elephants – are particularly adept at bashing down forests, which might not sound conducive to helping climate change, but it could create large grasslands in the tundra of Siberia, which could help to preserve the permafrost, beneath which huge amounts of harmful gases and carbon are stored.

Ben Lamm (left) and George Church of Colossal. Credit: Colossal
Ben Lamm (left) and George Church of Colossal. Credit: Colossal

“There is no silver bullet when it comes to climate change,” Lamm told LADbible.

“It’s going to take a while to get to Arctic re-wilding, we’re going to have our first few calves in four to six years, and it’s going to take six to seven years before they can be truly self-sustainable and knocking down trees, so it’s going to take a while.

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“We need to be looking at solar and alternative energy sources, we need to be moving to electric, there’s a million other things that humanity needs to do.

“I don’t think that Colossal is the be all and end all, but it is a natural plan and what’s nice about it is that we think we can sequester a lot of carbon and keep the permafrost cooler and we think that we can suppress a lot of methane from being released.

“Methane is about 30 times worse for the world than carbon.

“There is more carbon and methane trapped in the Arctic than anywhere else.

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“Our hope is that we can get to thousands of elephants in a reasonable time period, and if we can, we can really play a role in suppressing carbon and methane in the Arctic, that’s our goal and that’s where I think we can leave the biggest impact.”

This is probably the closest you've come to seeing a mammoth in the wild. Credit: Alamy
This is probably the closest you've come to seeing a mammoth in the wild. Credit: Alamy

These are lofty goals, but with them comes the ethical question of scientifically creating creatures, as well as using elephants for their own ends.

Some have even suggested that Colossal is ‘playing God’ with their work, however well-meaning or well considered it might be.

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After all, putting aside the ethical and scientific concerns involved, what are the consequences of releasing these large beasts – even in small numbers – into the wild?

Lamm rejects that notion, however.

He explained: “Regardless of your philosophical or religious views, I think that wherever you fall on that spectrum, we can all agree that we have a duty to protect this planet.

“Someone said that until Elon [Musk] figures out Mars there is no ‘Planet B’, right?

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“We’ve got this one, this is our station in this universe right now, so we have a duty to protect that and everything that exists on it.

“When you lose a keystone species the entire ecosystem falls apart, whether that’s a herbivore or a predator or whatever.

“What we’re doing is trying to build better tools to give modern day conservationists a winning chance against what humanity is currently doing.

“We can all agree that we have this one planet and we need to take care of it.”

The Asian elephant is the mammoth's closest living relative. Credit: Alamy
The Asian elephant is the mammoth's closest living relative. Credit: Alamy

He added: “We need to ensure that the ecosystems that developed without us continue to develop with us, it’s all about human integration.

“So, we’re just trying to advance technologies that can help conservation, and the by-product is building technologies that can also help humanity.

“I don’t look at it as playing God, I look at it as being a good steward of what we’re given regardless of what or who gave it to us.”

The folks at Colossal have been working away and receiving a lot of funding to progress these aims, and the time-frame for live mammoths existing on this planet might be significantly shorter than you might think.

“Our goal is four to six years,” Lamm explained.

“It’ll probably be towards the second half of that, but we have the team in place and George has been working on this for eight years before we got involved.

“We just have to really do the work, we have the funding in place to do that and support the teams, so right now we’re targeting four to six years.

“It takes around 22 months for an elephant to gestate, it’s one of the longer gestations on the planet, so you’ve got two years of that which is just growing an elephant.

“We have about two years of really hard work, and from that we think it will take two years to gestate, so that gives us a two year buffer.

“I think it’ll be towards the end of that event horizon, but we feel very confident about that timeline at this time.

“Theoretically 2027, before 2030 – we feel really confident about that,

“It’s exciting, it will come faster than we think.”

Whatever your views on it, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Weird, Science, Animals, World News

Tom Wood
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