Wednesday, September 15 2021

Dive In

I am taking a new turn in my life and will be starting a new chapter, taking a lot from this defining chapter of my life—the last 6 years at Zomato… I am very emotional as I write this and don’t think any words can do justice to how I am feeling right now.

That’s from the parting email sent by co-founder Gaurav Gupta to Zomato employeesas he walks out the door just two months after the company’s blockbuster debut on the stock market. He was the first employee to be promoted to a co-founder. There are rumours about a fallout with CEO Deepinder Goyal. It also comes on the heels of the decision to get out of the grocery and nutraceuticals business.

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Big Story

Resurrection dreams: Bringing back the woolly mammoth

The TLDR: A brilliant Harvard scientist has just received $15 million to create a hybrid version of this extinct relative of the elephantso herds of these creatures can repopulate the Arctic tundra. Sounds like a Jurassic Park-sized nightmare? Lots of people think so. 


Wait, what are they trying to do?

The plan is to genetically engineer a hybrid of the Asian elephant using the DNA of the woolly mammoth. The result will have key traits of its extinct cousin, and thrive in the Arcticwhich was the original habitat of the mammoth. According to the lead scientist George Church:


“Our goal is to make a cold-resistant elephant, but it is going to look and behave like a mammoth. Not because we are trying to trick anybody, but because we want something that is functionally equivalent to the mammoth, that will enjoy its time at -40C, and do all the things that elephants and mammoths do, in particular knocking down trees.”


Point to note: Woolly mammoths roamed the planet nearly 13,000 years ago—and have been extinct for 4,000 years.


And who are these people? 

This “de-extinction” company is called Colossal—whose stated aim is to “jumpstart nature’s ancestral heartbeat.” The venture is co-founded by tech and software entrepreneur Ben Lamm and George Church—a famous and controversial professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. Church, to put it simply, is considered a genius in gene editing—and his use of powerful tools such as CRISPR, the revolutionary gene editing tool that essentially rewrites the genetic code to alter the characteristics of living species. He’s made headlines before for plans to reverse aging in mice—and eventually in humans—and editing pig DNA so their organs can be transplanted safely into people.


The funding: The project is making headlines because Colossal just received $15 million from the likes of Climate Capital, a private equity firm that backs efforts to lower carbon emissions, and the Winklevoss twins—best known for their battle royale with Mark Zuckerberg over the ownership of Facebook.


How will they do it?

Here’s how it will work:


Step one: Identify and extract the genetic code for specific traits from frozen woolly mammoth DNA:


“These traits... include a 10-centimeter layer of insulating fat, five different kinds of shaggy hair including some that is up to a meter long, and smaller ears that will help the hybrid tolerate the cold. The team also plans to try to engineer the animal to not have any tusks so they won’t be a target for ivory poachers.”


Step two: Take skin cells of Asian elephants and edit them to carry the mammoth’s genetic code. The scientists believe they will need to simultaneously program “upward of 50 changes” to the code.


Step three: Create an elephant embryo using stem cells—and swap out its nucleus with that of the reprogrammed skin cell.


Step four: Carry the embryo to term in an artificial womb—which could be tricky—or in a surrogate elephant. The plan is to build a mammoth uterus lined with uterine tissue grown from stem cells.


Point to note: The Asian elephant already shares approximately 99.6% of the mammoth’s genome.


Surely this can’t be easy…


In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • A damning exposé of Indian Covid data
  • Special Facebook rules for special people
  • Eye problems linked to dementia
  • A deepfake nightmare comes true


A list of curious facts

  • A global ‘Lost Wallet Test'
  • The sweet spot for laziness

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