Colossal is on track to produce a woolly mammoth by 2028, said Ben Lamm, the company’s CEO, and Co-founder.

“I think we’re on the path for that,” Lamm said during a discussion on Colossal’s De-Extinction Mission at South by Southwest Tuesday afternoon. TechCrunch’s Managing Editor Darrell Etherington interviewed Lamm in Salon H of the Hilton Austin Downtown.

Colossal Co-Founder George Church is a Harvard geneticist who is spearheading the team of 40 scientists and researchers to bring the woolly mammoth back to life.

Lamm said the gestation period for a woolly mammoth is 22 months and can’t be sped up. The company is using Asian elephants to carry the baby mammoth to term. It also has built some artificial wombs to grow woolly mammoths in the lab. Some of the other projects Colossal’s working on, like the Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine, or the Dodo bird, might be brought to life sooner than the woolly mammoth because they have shorter gestation periods, Lamm said. Thylacine has a gestation period of less than a month.

Colossal, founded in September of 2021, is one of Texas’ unicorn companies and a moonshot company tackling big projects like bringing the woolly mammoth back from extinction along with the Tasmanian tiger and the Dodo, a bird species extinct since 1662. The synthetic biology company has raised $225 million and spun out Form Bio, a software platform, which raised a $30 million Series A round.

Colossal has 90 employees and 40 external collaborators and labs in Austin, Dallas, Boston, and Melbourne, Australia.

“Our goal is every animal we work on we want to reintroduce back into their natural habitat,” Lamm said.

Colossal has been working with Alaska natives and conservationists about introducing the woolly mammoth back to Alaska. It is also in talks with people in Canada, Lamm said.

There are 54 mammoth genomes, and Colossal is working with the University of Alaska to re-introduce Alaskan mammoths, Lamm said. Colossal has agreed to provide 200 mammoths, he said.

Ben Lamm, Colossal CEO and Co-Founder

“That re-wilding process has to be very thoughtfully done,” Lamm said. “We are looking for people to be collaborators in it.”

Colossal is being transparent and is focused on educating the public, which is essential when doing something this big, Lamm said.

Colossal’s goal is to bring keystone species back to the environment they were removed from, Lamm said.

Reintroducing the extinct species will benefit the whole ecosystem, Lamm said. He mentioned the successful reintroduction of Grey wolves into Yellowstone National Park. The wolves had been absent from the parkland for decades when the park brought them back in 1995. Lamm said it had been one of the most successful reintroductions of a species to an environment.

Linchpin for the ecosystem

Colossal focuses on linchpin species that are essential for the ecosystem, with the animals going mainly extinct because mankind has a history of murdering them, Lamm said.

Lamm said that Colossal has looked at other species, like the Steller sea cow, which has been extinct since 1768 and would benefit kelp forests by bringing it back. But there’s nothing “we can gestate it in,” he said.

“There are certain species we can’t go after,” he said.

Beth Shapiro, Ph.D., Colossal Scientific Advisory Board member, and lead paleogeneticist, is heading up the work on the de-extinction of the Dodo bird and has to create reference genomes. Lamm said it could cost between $6,000 to $25,000 to do bird genomes.

“Before we can do ancient DNA, we have to do DNA for existing species,” Lamm said.

Colossal isn’t trying to create clones. It is creating close proximities to extinct species, Lamm said.

Etherington asked Lamm if he could make a real Pokémon.

“We aren’t ever going to focus on Pokémon,” Lamm said.

Humanity faces more significant climate issues and problems to solve, he said.

“After we solve all the climate issues, we can start getting weird,” Lamm said.

Etherington asked Lamm about how Colossal makes money.

Lamm said he looks at de-extinction as a systems problem and runs Colossal like a software company.

“We look at monetizing all of the technologies that come from it,” Lamm said. He said that Form Bio was its first spin-out company, but it plans to do more.

Colossal has gotten negative feedback, and some people think what it’s trying to do is like Jurassic Park.  Lamm said thoughtful and informed people give Colossal feedback that is critical. He brings them onto the company’s advisory boards to improve their projects.

“I do not think Colossal is the solution to the biodiversity crisis,” Lamm said. “I think we’re bringing attention to the crises.”

Environmentalists and conservationists today are massively undercapitalized. Colossal doesn’t replace existing conservation efforts, Lamm said.  Lamm said that Colossal didn’t take money away from conservation efforts but brought new money into it.

“People still need to support these existing causes,” he said.

In the Q&A at SXSW, Lamm got asked several questions about what happens if things go wrong, and Colossal creates a nightmare situation and deviates from the original genome to create a Jurassic Park situation.

“We are trying to be very thoughtful of narrating it down versus engineering for fun,” Lamm said.

He said Colossal also faces regulatory oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency and others. He said it doesn’t plan to create mammoths for food or build battle mammoths.