The Fiction of Jurassic Park’s “Science”
March 18, 2019 § 6 Comments
Extracting DNA from amber-preserved mosquitos- mosquitos from before “the meteor” 66 million years ago- and filling in the missing parts with frog DNA is the premise of Jurassic Park’s successful dinosaur resurrection. So… can we do this and bring Busch Gardens to another level?
Sorry, but no. Not really.
And this is why:
Although we do have amber-preserved mosquitos and biting flies from the dinosaurs’ time, amber preserves the husk and not the soft tissues. (In other words, not the blood.)
a mosquito from about 46 million years ago was found preserved in lake sediment a few years ago, and, more importantly, there was red pigment in its abdomen. When tested, the pigment had hemoglobin-derived porphyrins, which are products of hemoglobin: a red protein than transports oxygen in vertebrates’ blood.
The thing about this, however, is that “even if you find blood or soft tissue, you don’t necessarily find DNA.” (Dr. Susie Maidment is a dinosaur researcher at the Natural History Museum.)
We’ve been able to recover DNA from permafrost and bones/body parts that have not yet completely fossilized, but DNA breaks down rapidly (with a half-life of 521 years), further accelerated by sunlight, water, and contamination.
The oldest DNA we’ve found so far is close to 1 million years old- the probability of us even finding DNA from 66 million years ago seems to be a bit of a stretch at the moment, nonetheless actually knowing what exactly to do with it…
Nonetheless, the frog thing-
In Jurassic Park, the scientists filled the fragmented DNA with frog DNA. There are two problems here: 1) if you don’t have the whole genome (which we don’t), then you won’t know which parts of the DNA have been found and which gaps need to be filled, and 2) frogs are amphibians, so why would we mix the two? You’d certainly get something interesting, but definitely not “the dinosaur.” You would have to use either bird or crocodile DNA because birds are, as we know lol, feathered dinosaurs, and crocodiles share a common ancestor with dinosaurs. (Again, this is assuming the genome would be figured out in the first place, which doesn’t currently seem too plausible.)
Something else questionable that Jurassic Park did was put the “complete” DNA in ostrich eggs for hatching purposes. In the book, they used artificial eggs, but that’s still just wrong. No matter what, it’s not a real dinosaur egg.
So, hatching doesn’t look like it’s going to work out, but there has to be another way.
There is, kind of- reverse engineering: beginning with a living animal and working backwards to get closer and closer to ancient reptiles in an attempt to reverse 66+ million years of evolution.
Of course, there’s the argument that even if this is successful, the creature would not technically be a dinosaur. And as it always seems to do within the realm of science-fiction, the question of ethics arises: “As Dr. Malcolm says in Jurassic Park- ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.’”
What would it eat? Where would it live? It is owned by someone? What’s its function?
These creatures weren’t living in our modern ecosystem. Unless we try and bring back something that we humans drove into extinction, I think it’s best to leave the dinos to rest.