CIA Funding Wooly Mammoth De-Extinction Company

While the CIA is not generally known for dealing with ancient animals, the agency is one of the multiple entities financially backing Dallas-based biotechnology company Colossal Biosciences, which is trying to bring the wooly mammoth back from extinction.

Other individuals and groups with investments in the company include Peter Thiel, Tony Robbins, Paris Hilton and Winklevoss Capital.

"Biotechnology and the broader bioeconomy are critical for humanity to further develop. It is important for all facets of our government to develop them and have an understanding of what is possible," Colossal co-founder Ben Lamm told The Intercept.

In-Q-Tel, Colossal's new investor, is registered as a nonprofit venture capital firm funded by the CIA, according to The Intercept, which said that recently the firm had shown an interest in biotechnology and DNA sequencing.

In-Q-Tel published a blog post on September 22, which said: "Why the interest in a company like Colossal, which was founded with a mission to "de-extinct" the wooly mammoth and other species? Strategically, it's less about the mammoths and more about the capability."

It said that "leadership in biotechnology will allow the U.S. to help set the ethical, as well as the technological, standards for the use of this technology."

mammoth in a snowy landscape
Stock image of a wooly mammoth in the snow. A biotechnology company that has received financial backing from the CIA plans to bring back various species from extinction, including mammoths and Tasmanian tigers. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Mammoths were enormous hairy elephant-like creatures that lived between around 5 million years ago to roughly 4,000 years ago, going extinct with the retreat of the Ice Age glaciers at about the same time as the Great Pyramids of Egypt were being constructed.

They have long captured the imaginations of people who want to bring back extinct animals, especially because scientists have managed to sequence the mammoth genome using recovered DNA in mummified remains.

Colossal plans to bring extinct animals like mammoths and even Tasmanian tigers back using CRISPR gene editing.

"Colossal will revolutionize history and be the first company to use CRISPR technology successfully in the de-extinction of previously lost species. On the journey we will build radical new software tools and technologies to advance the science of genomics overall," the company said on its website.

CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, works by essentially cutting and pasting genes. According to its website, Colossal plans to use CRISPR to splice together Asian elephant DNA with wooly mammoth DNA, as the Asian elephant is the wooly mammoth's closest living relative, creating a hybrid embryo, then transplanting that embryo into the womb of a healthy African elephant.

According to Colossal, restoring the mammoth will aid in decelerating the melting of the Arctic permafrost, preventing the emission of greenhouse gasses stored within, and also help to save modern elephants from extinction.

However, not all scientists agree that de-extinction is a good thing.

"De-extinction is a fairytale science," Jeremy Austin, a University of Adelaide professor and director of the Australian Center for Ancient DNA, told the Sydney Morning Herald in response to Colossal's plans to bring back the Tasmanian Tiger.

"It's pretty clear to people like me that thylacine or mammoth de-extinction is more about media attention for the scientists and less about doing serious science."

Additionally, one Nature Ecology & Evolution study from 2017 concluded that "[s]pending limited resources on de-extinction could lead to net biodiversity loss."

"Critics who say de-extinction of genes to create proxy species is impossible are critics who are simply not fully informed and do not know the science," Lamm told the Intercept. "We have been clear from day one that on the path to de-extinction we will be developing technologies which we hope to be beneficial to both human healthcare as well as conservation."

Either way, the CIA appears to believe that Colossal should and will succeed in its de-extinction goals.