Artificial IntelligenceCryptocurrencyMetaverseCybersecurityTech Forward

Bitcoin billionaires bet big on reviving woolly mammoths to combat climate change

September 13, 2021, 2:00 PM UTC

Four thousand years ago, woolly mammoths went extinct, and one of the planet’s most biodiverse habitats, the Mammoth Steppe, disappeared from the Arctic tundra.

Harvard genetics professor George Church believes that bringing back these ancient creatures through genetic engineering could help reverse climate change by restoring the plant root systems where the mammoths graze and thereby pull more carbon from the atmosphere. 

Church’s effort to bring back lost species, known as de-extinction, is now the focus of a startup called Colossal. On Sept. 13, he and his partner, serial entrepreneur Ben Lamm, publicly debuted the company with $15 million in funding from billionaires Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss of Winklevoss Capital, Tim Draper of Draper Associates, Peter Diamandis of Bold Capital, and Jim Breyer of Breyer Capital. 

Thomas Tull, founder of Legendary Pictures, led the investment round. Other high profile backers include bestselling author Tony Robbins.

In 2012, Church was part of a team that pioneered the gene editing tool Crispr-Cas9. Through the process of cutting and pasting DNA, he saw the potential to alter the genetic code of the endangered Asian elephant to make it more like the woolly mammoth. He now wants to implant the test tube embryos of these mammophants into Asian or African elephants, or artificial wombs, to grow them into calves that can be returned to their native habitat. 

The effort, Church hopes, in time will aid in developing tools and techniques to help all threatened species survive. 

Cameron Winklevoss was among those attracted to the idea. He’s best known for being portrayed in the movie The Social Network, and using a legal settlement with Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook’s origins to invest early in Bitcoin. Fortune spoke with Winklevoss about why he decided to invest in Colossal and his views about cryptocurrency. 

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: What drew you to invest in Colossal?

Cameron Winklevoss: I see Colossal as an opportunity to futureproof the environment and species. They’re trying to solve an important problem—not just how to bring back extinct animals, but how to preserve the genetic record of threatened species, of which there is a large number. That could be a game changer.

The way the world is going with wildfires, hurricanes, the pandemic, you could argue there’s a lot about the present moment that’s dystopian. But if we can map the genomes of different species and preserve them, like putting them in amber or some immutable database, if something catastrophic happens, we can recover.

Although it’s a moonshot, one probably fraught with risk and a ton of technical challenges, if they succeed there is the potential for a very outsize return.

How do you see Colossal making money?

There could be a lot of economic opportunity over time, which might include television or even parks for extinct animals, like Jurassic Park

Have you considered the ethics of bringing back long-dead species?

It’s definitely something we’re going to have to deal with, regardless of whether it’s Colossal or someone else. But I feel like this team is really thoughtful in their approach, and I’m confident they’re going to make smart decisions as we cross those paths.

Lamm told Fortune they expect to have the first woolly mammoth calf in the next four to six years. Does that align with your investment timeline?

We see this as a multiyear journey with monetization coming in the latter half. We’re not expecting a return in the first couple of years. It could take upwards of a decade.

A year ago Bitcoin was languishing at $10,000, then shot up to $65,000 and has had wild swings since. Where do you see it heading?

I see Bitcoin ending the year at $100,000. There are a lot of tailwinds for it, with the biggest driver being inflation as trillions of dollars flood the money supply from loose monetary policy.

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey announced he’s building a decentralized Bitcoin exchange at his payments company, Square, to make Bitcoin the “currency of the Internet” with the goal of providing a “sound global monetary system for all.” What are your thoughts on this?

I’m a big fan of Jack’s. He’s a huge proponent of Bitcoin and supports the ecosystem and developers. My personal view is that Bitcoin is an excellent store of value, a way to hedge against inflation. It sounds like Jack may also perceive Bitcoin as a way to make payments. I’m not sure I see that myself because of its volatility, but happy to be proven wrong.

Facebook, as part of a consortium of companies, has been trying to bring to market a stablecoin—a digital coin pegged to the U.S. dollar that doesn’t fluctuate in value like Bitcoin. It’s meant to be used for payments by its 3.5 billion users across Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. Will they succeed?

It seems like a really interesting project and definitely positive for the industry. They are actively engaged with regulators, and I feel there is a path forward, although the timing of when they’ll get approval is unclear. Given the potential size of the user base, and the impact, I think regulators are taking extra precaution to make sure they fully understand the project and what the plan is. But just because something takes a while doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

The Gemini cryptocurrency exchange which you own has its own stablecoin, the Gemini dollar. How is it different from the others?

The biggest difference is that the Gemini dollar is regulated by the New York State Department of Financial Services and approved to operate in all 50 U.S. states and globally. It’s also pegged one-to-one to the U.S. dollar, held in U.S. banks, and is FDIC eligible.

NFTs are tokens that record the ownership of assets. Is the craze surrounding the buying and selling of them a bubble?

I believe NFTs are a transformative technology and will become a multitrillion-dollar asset class over the next decade. With them, the most brilliant creators will be able to make art, collectibles, in-game items, and all sorts of human expression for the metaverse. 

But like Bitcoin, it will have its moments where there’s bullish sentiment and not. People said Facebook was a fad, a tool for people to procrastinate. Then all of a sudden, people took it seriously. Same with Bitcoin. I’ve personally lived through half a dozen Bitcoin “bubbles,” and I’m sure there are going to be plenty more.

Have you bought any NFTs?

Yes, I have a few Beeple and WhIsBe, among other artists, which can be viewed on my Nifty Gateway page. Of course I see them as an investment, but they also make me feel like I own a piece of the future. 

Subscribe to Fortune Daily to get essential business stories straight to your inbox each morning.