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Could Jurassic Park Really Happen?

Is it possible to create velociraptors, triceratops, and tyrannosaurus rexes by extracting DNA from mosquitoes in amber?  Everyday Einstein looks into the science of DNA cloning to figure out if Jurassic Park could actually happen today.

By
Lee Falin, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #39

Dino DNA

So with the minor problem of us being unable to determine whether or not mosquitos lived at the same time as a couple of the dinosaurs in the film, everything seems to be going along pretty well. Fossilized mosquitos have been found in amber, mosquito blood meals do contain DNA, and we know at least some dinosaurs lived at the same time as mosquitos. So we should be headed to Cretaceous, er Jurassic Park any day now, right?

Unfortunately, DNA tends to break down when sitting around outside of cells (a process known as degradation). Recent research has shown that DNA has a half-life of about 521 years. Meaning, that if you were to leave a sample of DNA sitting in your living room for 521 years, about half of its chemical bonds would break down.

The research also calculates that even under ideal low-temperature storage conditions, every single bond would be broken after about 6.8 million years (assuming your living room lasted that long). Higher temperatures (required to form amber) and extreme pH levels (such as found in the stomach of a mosquito) increase the rate at which DNA degrades – which unfortunately rules out the possibility of finding any intact (or even partially intact) dinosaur DNA inside the mosquito’s belly.

Conclusion

So now you know that even ignoring the feasibility of the science involved in the actual dinosaur cloning, we’ve run into several roadblocks on the road to Jurassic Park. Not the least of which is the fact that while DNA samples can be found in mosquitos, they wouldn’t have lasted long enough to allow us to find dinosaur DNA in the 1990s.

If you liked today’s episode, you can become a fan of Everyday Einstein on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com.

Dinosaur image, IvanWalsh.com at Flickr, CC BY 2.0

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About the Author

Lee Falin, PhD

Dr. Lee Falin earned a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois, then went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology from Virginia Tech.