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Jurassic Park Dinosaurs and DNA

written by: •edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 12/5/2009

Could we ever walk with dinosaurs? That old scientific chestnut always rears its scaly and tentacled head whenever well preserved dino bones or soft tissues are found. It's unlikely that you'll ever be troubled by a T. rex, but then with science, it's hard to say that something is impossible.

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    Extinction has a nasty habit of being permanent. Nature just won't go with the flow and help us to realise some of our science fiction dreams. However, that's not stopping scientists from trying. The finding of well preserved DNA samples from mammoths, Neanderthal man and sabre-toothed tigers could be used in attempts to recreate long dead species.

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    Walking with Dinosaurs

    Bringing back Jurassic era dinosaurs is a different story altogether. They have been dead for such a long time that their DNA will be too far degraded. Before looking at the very faint, almost invisible slither of a chance that science could bring them kicking, screaming and biting their way into the 21st century, let's examine all the reasons that would make such a scenario impossible.

    A mosquito in Baltic amber necklace is between 40 and 60 million years old - image by Mila Zinkova and released into the public domain under GNU Free Documentation License In Jurassic Park, the book and movie, scientists were able to recreate dinos from DNA found in the blood of a mosquito that sucked on the giant beasts and then became preserved in amber. Although the dino DNA had been degraded over time, the gaps were filled in by frog DNA.

    The first major problem with this scenario is that DNA is not a stable enough molecule, well not that stable that it will survive intact for millions of years. Too much important genetic information would be lost, even in a good preservative medium such as amber. Then there comes the problem of extraction and contamination. Insect and dino DNA would be intermingled and extremely difficult to tease apart. If any sequences were extracted there's always the potential for the lab to inadvertently sequence the DNA of a technician whose DNA could contaminate the ancient biological specimens. If dino DNA was able to be sequenced the gaps would have to be filled in by too much DNA from an extant species - such that any dino traits would be invisible.

    Even if you were able to extract some DNA, there's no way of knowing how it was packaged into chromosomes, well not at the moment anyway. But let's suppose that some 'viable' DNA is found and packaged together, you will need an egg to get the whole show on the road. But which species of bird or reptile? They would have to be compatible.

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    Jurassic Park Dinosaurs

    So having looked at the reasons why dinos will stay dead, let's look at the conditions that might be conducive to their comeback tour. There aren't that many, but an important one is the nature of scientific and technological endeavours. Science is rather good at achieving what was once thought impossible. The list is endless, but splitting the atom, travelling to the moon, travelling faster than 200 miles per hour and defeating small pox were all things that were once thought impossible by mainstream science. So who knows? Never say never.

    In 2007, protein moleculees were extracted from 68 million year old T.rex bones. The discovery of such ancient and well preserved organic material was a surprise to everyone, and though being used to study the evolutionary link between birds and dinos, the finding threw another lifeline to those believing that Jurassic era dinosaurs will one day walk the Earth again.