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Making Jurassic Park a Reality

Making dinosaurs from recovered DNA as seen in Jurassic Park was thought to be unrealistic. But is the idea really so far-fetched? Everyday Einstein explores two new studies that suggest bringing dinosaurs back to life may be more plausible than we thought.

By
Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD,
Episode #151

Hi, I’m Sabrina Stierwalt, and I’m Everyday Einstein bringing you Quick and Dirty Tips to help you make sense of science.

Dinosaurs are fascinating. These ancient animals, which no human has ever laid eyes on, are very different from most of the animals we know today. Yet they provide an important link to the history of our planet. Understanding the cause of their mass extinction may also give us a glimpse of our own fate.

Our enthusiasm for dinosaurs starts young—my one-year-old daughter’s favorite pajamas are the ones covered in Tyrannosaurus rexes. And based on the $500 million brought in by the debut of the Jurassic World movie last weekend, we adults still maintain a healthy amount of dino-related curiosity of our own. However, we can only learn about these monstrous creatures through clues left behind in their fossil record or through birds, their modern day ancestors.

In a previous episode, we discussed the science behind making dinosaurs in the original Jurassic Park movie. In their Hollywood-scripted lab, those scientists were able to extract dinosaur DNA from the bellies of mosquitoes that had been preserved in amber for more than 60 million years. While mosquitoes are indeed found trapped in amber and the pesky insects were known to exist at the same time as the dinosaurs, the likelihood that DNA could survive past even 10 million years seemed dubious.  

The protein molecules that make up the soft tissues, like skin and blood vessels, decay very quickly and are often eaten by microbes in a matter of weeks. Thus, they aren’t expected to last for longer than 1 to 4 million years. Fossils are instead composed of the inorganic components of bones like mineral salts. In fact, scientists have been so sure that any type of organics could not be preserved in fossilized remains for such long time periods that they don’t even look for them.

But is the idea really so far-fetched?

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