The work of Colossal Biosciences might trigger inevitable comparisons to Jurassic Park, but Ben Lamm says the world has a great deal to gain from bringing back once-extinct animal and plant species.
In a Goldman Sachs Talks with Amit Sinha, head of life sciences investing at Goldman Sachs, Lamm dives into the science involved with his company’s work. Colossal is using CRISPR, the gene-editing tool, along with newer technologies to help advance “multiplex” editing or editing different parts of the genome at the same time. Its goal is to “de-extinct” species such as the woolly mammoth, the Tasmanian tiger, and the dodo bird.
But he says there’s a bigger goal in mind.
“We have a massive biodiversity crisis that we’re trying to solve – the earth is on track to lose a significant amount of our natural biodiversity between now and 2050,” says Lamm, the company’s co-founder and CEO. Lamm launched the company with co-founder Dr. George Church with the idea that bringing back extinct species would help shed light on that crisis, while also building technologies to aid conservation.
The company’s intent is to reintroduce, or “rewild,” once-extinct species back into the world in places where they previously roamed thousands of years ago. The company has been working with various groups – including indigenous people, private landowners, and governments – to that end.
“What surprised me is just how much time Colossal is spending on the rewilding as we do on the genetics,” Lamm says. When a species meets the company’s criteria for de-extinction, the challenge often is how to ensure “that we can reintroduce them in a way that actually helps the environment,” he says.
The Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted by 196 parties at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in 2015, highlighted the potential of nature-based solutions to address warming global temperatures. Lamm sees his company’s work as contributing to those efforts, along with other examples such as planting trees, urban wetlands, and switching to restorative agricultural practices.
One example he points to is bringing back cold-tolerant megafauna in the Arctic. Lamm says that peer-reviewed research has concluded that restoring woolly mammoths “at the right population densities” could lower ground temperatures by up to eight degrees by helping stop the release of greenhouse gases. That’s “incredibly important because there’s more carbon and methane stored in the Arctic than all of the rest of the world combined, and double what’s in the atmosphere currently,” he says.
Rewilding species may also propel carbon-trading markets. Currently, many companies around the world rely on carbon offsets to counter the impact of their emissions. Lamm sees a future in which companies sponsor the de-extinction of species and receive credit for the positive impact they have on the climate. He says Australia is already pioneering a biodiversity credit model that could serve as a precedent.
This episode was recorded on September 25, 2023.