Michael Crichton was a Harvard M.D. who decided to spend his life writing science fiction that took the world by storm. In 1990, he published Jurassic Park and introduced the world to the concept that the long extinct creatures like dinosaurs could be resurrected through genetic engineering. In 1993, millions of jaws dropped all over the world when people saw this opening scene of the film Steven Spielberg directed based on Crichton’s book.
George Church is a Harvard Medical School biologist and genetic engineer who, along with a small team of research scientists, has founded a company called Colossal with the aim of resurrecting the wooly mammoth. But the Colossal team’s mission is not just to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. They theorize woolly mammoths might have an ecological benefit. The North American and Siberian tundra regions once inhabited by wooly mammoths are thawing because of global warming, releasing a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and thus contributing further to global warming. Back when herds of giant wooly mammoths and other Pleistocene era mammals roamed those regions, wild grasses dominated the land, not mossy tundra. Church argues, herds of woolly mammoths could help solve the thawing-tundra-carbon-release problem by breaking up the moss, fertilizing the ground and helping to restore grasslands. (Note: Russia is already importing bison to a Siberian preserve based on the same theory. The preserve has been dubbed “Pleistocene Park.”) If Colossal succeeds in re-creating the wooly mammoth and, eventually, herds of them, Pleistocene parks could become a reality in the not-too-distant future. See this recent story from the New York Times for more information:
Church and his team from Colossal aren’t the only genetic engineers working to bring back wooly mammoths. Other scientific teams from Russia, South Korea, Japan and China are working on it too. See these stories about those efforts:
Furthermore, wooly mammoths aren’t the only extinct Pleistocene animals that genetic engineers might be able bring back to life. Here are some others:
By the way, that YouTube video I just referenced gave me goosebumps. It looks and sounds like the orientation film for Jurassic Park visitors in Spielberg’s film.
Genetic engineering has barely hatched from Watson’s and Crick’s egg. It’s a field promises to yield solutions to some of the world’s thorniest problems as well wrong-turn developments and experiments that are downright disturbing and terrifying. To say the field is fraught with controversy is an understatement. Nevertheless, I believe genetic engineering will be an even bigger game changer in this century than artificial intelligence. Both of these technological platforms will challenge our moral and philosophical constructs. And the two together? Whoa. The possibilities are mind-blowing.
I try to follow scientific developments in genetic engineering closely. They are an endless source of inspiration for my short fiction. Stay tuned for many more blogs from me on this topic. P.S. My story that will be published November of this year involves a combination of genetic engineering and AI.