Tech Giant Plans to Resurrect Extinct Giant Bird

Written by Camilla Jessen

Jun.20 - 2024 10:15 AM CET

An American company plans to bring back a giant bird that went extinct in the 17th century.

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If you had gone on holiday to Mauritius 350 years ago, you might have encountered a large, friendly bird that looked like a cross between an oversized pigeon and a giant turkey.

That would have been a dodo.

The dodo lived peacefully on the island before it was driven to extinction by human settlers and the animals they brought with them.

The oversized bird was one meter tall and weighed around 20 kg.

Its lack of fear of humans made it an easy target for Dutch sailors arriving on the island in the 16th and 17th centuries. These sailors, along with other species such as monkeys and rats that they introduced to Mauritius, contributed to the dodo's extinction by hunting the birds and eating their eggs.

Resurrection Efforts

Now, Colossal Biosciences, an American tech giant, wants to bring the dodo back to life using stem cell technology.

Beth Shapiro, a leading researcher at Colossal, has been fascinated by the dodo since she first saw a specimen in a museum more than 20 years ago.

Colossal has already sequenced the dodo's genome from bone samples and other fragments, mapping all of its genes.

The next step involves using genetic engineering to create a cell from a close living relative, likely the Nicobar pigeon, with a genome that matches the dodo's. This genetically engineered cell will then be used to create an embryo, which will be incubated in an egg laid by a surrogate pigeon.

The goal is to produce a hybrid bird that resembles the dodo, though it will not be an exact replica.

According to Ewan Birney, deputy director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, the project is "very, very challenging" and raises ethical questions about the purpose of reviving extinct species and whether resources might be better spent on conserving endangered species.

Purpose and Timeline

Colossal Biosciences argues that reviving the dodo serves a greater purpose: learning how to prevent living species from becoming extinct.

The company plans to invest $150 million in this project and aims to hatch a dodo-like bird within the next six years.