The CIA wants to bring mammoths back to life. Through its investment arm Ion-Q-Tel, it has just invested in the startup Colossal, whose goal is to bring this species back thanks to CRISPR genetic scissors…
Since its creation in 1947, the CIA has always been interested in technologies related to weapons and surveillance. Recently, however, the agency has been taking a close look at DNA sequencing, according to a report published in by The Intercept.
Through its investment arm, the U.S. intelligence service has just bet on a technology to resurrect mammoths: Colossal Biosciences. This biotech start-up is based in Dallas.
The company is founded by George Church and Ben Lamm. In addition to the CIA, investors included Peter Thiel, Tony Robbins, Paris Hilton and Wiklevoss Capital.
The Colossal project aims to use the CRISPR genetic sequencing technology to bring back to life two extinct creatures: the giant Ice Age mammoth, and the Tasmanian tiger. The latter is a medium-sized marsupial whose species became extinct just under a century ago.
In-Q-Tel: the CIA’s investment arm
New investor In-Q-Tel is registered as a non-profit investment fund founded by the CIA. This group funds technology startups with the potential to protect US national security.
On its blog, In-Q-Tel published a post to explain this investment on September 22, 2022: “ why this interest in a company like Colossalfounded with the mission of “de-extinguishing the woolly mammoth” and other species? Strategically, it’s less about mammoths and more about the company’s ability to “.
In fact, the organization believes that “ the next wave of progress in synbio will lead to advances in our ability to shape both the form and function of organisms at the macroscopic level. Overcoming the challenges of animal and plant engineering “.
For his part, Ben Lamm, co-founder of Colossal Biosciences, asserts that “ biotechnology and, more generally, the bioeconomy are essential for humanity to develop further. It is important for all facets of our government to develop them and understand what is possible. “.
A spokesperson clarifies that ” even though Thiel provided Church with $100,000 of funding to launch the woolly mammoth project that became Colossal, he is not a stakeholder like Robbins, Hilton, Winklevoss Capital and In-Q-Tel “.
CRISPR: everything you need to know about genetic scissors
To carry out its project, Colossal uses CRISPR gene editing a genetic engineering technique based on a specific type of naturally occurring DNA sequence.
This method was created to enable users to delete unwanted genesand program a more suitable genetic code.
As Columbia University bioethicist Robert Klitzman explains, ” CRISPR is the use of genetic scissors. You plunge into DNA, a chain of 3 billion molecules, and remove part of it to replace it. You can remove bad mutations and put in good genes, but these editing scissors can also remove too many “.
The expert calls for caution when it comes to genetic engineering. In the past, this technology has been used to combat genetic diseases, improve fruit and vegetables, but also to create of ” perfect babies “in China…
However, the CIA believes that the potential benefits far outweigh the risks of drift. According to the blog post published by In-Q-Tel, embracing this technology will enable US government agencies to read, write and edit genetic material.
More importantly, it may give the United States the ability to lead the global biological phenomenon impacting competition between nations, while allowing them to set ethical standards and technological standards for its use.
On September 12, 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order on biotechnology and biomanufacturing. The government wants to prioritize advances in these technologies.
The decree encourages cooperation between the public and private sectors, and includes instructions to strengthen biological risk management. The aim is also to increase the availability of bio-energy-based products, and to engage the international community in improving R&D cooperation while respecting U.S. principles and values.