They have finally deciphered the complete genome of the Dodo, which would allow it to be brought back to life.
In the long history of our planet, many species of plants and animals have become extinct. Some we can’t even imagine. But of many others, we have witnessed their existence thanks to the fossil remains they have left; and some more, we were able to see them alive before causing their terrible extinction.
One of these species is the Raphus cucullatus , better known as the dodo . It is a flightless bird that became extinct in the 17th century, mainly due to human action. The dodo was endemic to Mauritius Island , located in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar; that is to say that it was the only place in the world where this species could be found.
This bird lost its ability to fly and fully adapted to a terrestrial life. It was about one meter tall and weighed between 10 and 17 kilograms, making it a robust bird. Its beak was about 23 centimeters long and shaped like a hook, which is believed to have been used to break coconut shells. Its legs were wide and hard, which contrasted with its small and insufficient wings to lift it off the ground.
In the 16th century , humans finally reached the dodo’s habitat and due to its poor defense capacity, it became extinct in a matter of a hundred years. The dodo developed without having any contact with men, so it did not see them as a threat. This, added to the “clumsiness” of the bird and the ease with which it could be hunted, ended the population of the dodo in Mauritius by the end of the 17th century .
Now, a group of scientists seeks to find a way to “revive” this extinct bird 400 years ago.
The dodo’s closest genetic relative is the Rodrigues solitaire, another species of flightless bird from Rodrigues Island that is also sadly extinct. Which leaves the Nicobar pigeon as the last hope. This species is also endemic to some islands in the Indian Ocean and is the closest living relative to the dodo.
Billion-dollar startup Colossal Biosciences says they are one step closer to reviving the dodo. Especially now that the Dallas, Texas- based company ; has managed to decipher the complete genome of the animal.
According to them, the dodo is the last species in their menagerie of extinct animals that they intend to bring back to life. Among them are the woolly mammoth and the Tasmanian tiger.
Of course, it is not as easy as it seems since many genetic tests are required to find another compatible animal. Scientists will have to introduce dodo-specific genes into the embryo of a living animal and wait for it to develop on good terms.
Another detail to consider with this is that, in reality, it would not be a dodo like those that existed 5 centuries ago, but a hybrid with a current bird. Colossal Biosciences is already comparing the genetic information of the Nicobar pigeon with that of the dodo to find out what it is that ” makes a Dodo a Dodo ,” Beth Shapiro told CNN .
The next step in this ambitious plan is to reintroduce the birds to Mauritius, their home. According to Science Alert , the company has already raised $150 million , in addition to the $225 million that has been invested in the project since 2021. In total, the project is estimated to cost $1.5 billion.
Although there are other scientists who oppose this plan because they consider it meaningless. “There are people who think that because you can do something, you should do it, but I’m not sure what its purpose is, and if this is really the best allocation of resources,” Ewan Birney, deputy director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, told The Guardian .