May 19, 2024

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Dr. Beth Shapiro and Colossal Biosciences: Charting the Course for De-Extinction

In a significant leap forward for science and conservation, Colossal Biosciences, the pioneer in de-extinction technology, announces the appointment of Dr. Beth Shapiro as its chief science officer. This move marks a pivotal moment in the pursuit of reviving extinct species and preserving those at risk, bridging the gap between ancient DNA research and real-world application.

“Beth and I have developed an incredible relationship over the past few years. I’m extremely impressed by her intellect, drive, and the rigor of her scientific research,” said Colossal Biosciences CEO Ben Lamm. “I know she will continue to push our scientific research programs further and is the best fit for the role. It’s a dream to work so closely with Beth, and I know our species leads feel the same.”

Shapiro’s journey into the annals of evolutionary biology and paleogenomics is nothing short of extraordinary. With a career beginning at the University of Oxford in England as a Rhodes Scholar, Shapiro distinguished herself early on by generating the first DNA data from a dodo, revealing its classification as a pigeon and setting the stage for her future contributions to understanding extinction events and their causes.

A Colossal Leap

Colossal Biosciences stands at the forefront of de-extinction, leveraging CRISPR gene-editing technology to potentially bring back species that have been lost to time. The company’s bold mission aligns closely with Dr. Beth Shapiro’s expertise and achievements, making her the ideal leader to spearhead its scientific endeavors.

Her pioneering work continued at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she led the Paleogenomics Lab, making significant advancements in the extraction and analysis of ancient DNA. This not only pushed the boundaries of what scientists thought possible, but also provided crucial insights into the history of species like the American bison and the woolly mammoth.

Under Shapiro’s guidance, Colossal aims to expand its efforts in species restoration and protection, utilizing her groundbreaking research and innovative approaches to tackle some of the most pressing challenges in conservation and biodiversity.

Why It Matters

Dr. Beth Shapiro’s transition from academic research to leading Colossal’s scientific teams represents a monumental shift toward applying theoretical knowledge to practical conservation efforts. Her work embodies a deep commitment to understanding the past to inform and improve the future, a principle at the heart of Colossal’s mission.

This collaboration is not just about the potential to bring back extinct species, but also about the broader implications for conservation, ecosystem restoration, and the fight against climate change. By combining Shapiro’s expertise with Colossal’s cutting-edge technology, the possibilities for making a significant impact on the planet’s health and biodiversity are vast.

The enthusiasm for Shapiro’s appointment is shared by her peers and collaborators, who recognize her unique blend of scientific rigor, innovation, and leadership. From her groundbreaking research on ancient DNA to her influential books, Shapiro has been a driving force in paleogenomics.

As the world faces unprecedented challenges in biodiversity and conservation, the work of Shapiro and Colossal Biosciences offers a ray of hope and a testament to the power of science to make a difference. 

Broader Implications for Conservation

Still, as the world embarks on this ambitious journey with Colossal and Dr. Beth Shapiro, it also faces profound ethical considerations. The endeavor of de-extinction is fraught with questions about humanity’s responsibility toward nature, the consequences of reintroducing species into modern ecosystems, and the allocation of resources in conservation.

Shapiro’s extensive engagement with these dilemmas, both in academic discourse and public debate, underscores the importance of a thoughtful, ethical approach to science and conservation. Her leadership at Colossal is expected to be a guiding light in navigating these complex issues, ensuring that the pursuit of scientific breakthroughs goes hand in hand with ecological stewardship and ethical integrity.

Said George Church, a renowned geneticist in his own right and a co-founder of Colossal Biosciences, “It is so great to have Beth join as CSO, bringing her inventive spirit and her many achievements in ancient populations of avian and mammalian species.

“She’s the author of inspiring books How To Clone a Mammoth and Life as We Made It, plus an HHMI and MacArthur Fellow. She is a rare combination of charisma, scholarship, and environmental dedication. A colossal pioneer.”

Through Shapiro’s leadership and the pioneering work of Colossal Biosciences, the scientific community and the world at large are invited to witness and participate in an extraordinary chapter of scientific innovation and environmental stewardship.

Colleagues across the planet have joined in the chorus singing Shapiro’s praises.

Tom Gilbert, director of the Danish National Research Foundation Center for Evolutionary Hologenomics and the group leader of the hologenomics group at the Globe Institute, said, “Beth has not only a distinguished background in leading cutting-edge research in the fields of ancient DNA and evolutionary genomics, but is also one of the leading authorities on all the various nuances needed for successful de-extinction events. In this regard, Colossal Biosciences could not have chosen a better person to help them set and ultimately realize their goals,” 

Love Dalen, professor of evolutionary genetics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, one of the research leaders at the Center for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm, and leading woolly mammoth expert, chimed in, “I have worked with Beth for over 20 years and am continually impressed by her contributions to the field of paleogenetics. I cannot be more excited about Beth joining Colossal, as this will not only help accelerate Colossal’s de-extinction efforts, but will also provide an even more direct link between my ancient mammoth research and [our] teams. I look forward to continuing our collaboration with Colossal to refine our target list of which genes make mammoths unique compared to other elephant lineages.”