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.)

BUT

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.

-PA-

Sources:

https://www.livescience.com/23861-fossil-dna-half-life.html

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/a-fossilized-blood-engorged-mosquito-is-found-for-the-first-time-ever-1749788/

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/could-scientists-bring-dinosaurs-back.html

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/jurassic-world-can-we-really-resurrect-a-dinosaur/

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§ 6 Responses to The Fiction of Jurassic Park’s “Science”

  • I’ve thought about concepts like this a lot throughout this course. Except the “hardest” science fiction, most science fiction (like Jurassic Park) takes a somewhat believable concept in science and then uses fiction and imagination to explain the jump between our reality and the reality of the (science) fictional world. But getting that “jump” right – getting the reader (especially a critical one) to suspend disbelief is a tricky thing. I would be interested to discuss stories or movies that tow this line effectively, and ones that are maybe a little to fantastical, or attempt to big of a jump between reality and fiction.

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  • cjwalters18 says:

    Your blog post really speaks about the tough leap that science fiction authors have to make from science to science fiction. They have to do it in a way that still captures their scientific audience by showing real “science” and captures the minds of people who simply want fun entertainment by showing the “fiction” in their stories. It’s hard to both effectively as you pointed out in Jurassic Park. I believe that the films and short stories that are successful in using actual science in their stories are the best kinds of films and short stories because they can spark conversations about what is possible in our world today.

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  • cruzcastillo says:

    Out of curiosity, to what extent does the potential cloning/resurrection of the mammoth species either support or deviate from your argument? It is my understanding that the frozen mammoth remains we have found provide an avenue to bringing back this long dead species (whether this provides and advantages remains to be seen). I guess I am just curious about whether the “Jurassic Park” process could be reapplied to more recent periods in history. In this way, we could potentially alter the extinction patterns of some species (though whether or not this is a good idea is an argument for another thread).

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    • It’s also interesting to think about the ethics of bringing back such species. Bringing mammoths back into existence just to sit in cages for observation and testing seems questionable to me.

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  • I agree wholeheartedly with your points and really do see the stretch that science fiction makes in a lot of cases. However, I think Jurassic Park is also clouded in a guise of audience approval ratings and other metrics that force some films to have to take several creative liberties for the sake of a more enjoyable films. While not discounting that there are scientifically accurate films, it is just much harder to do so without boring the audience. In addition, I think some of the benefit of such films is that it does allow us to “dream” a little and go beyond what we think is real and that is so important for developing the future. So maybe it is impossible, but maybe watching it is going to spur some little kid one day to devote his life to the pursuit of re-creating dinosaurs.

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  • jayneecook says:

    I understand the arguments against introducing a foreign species into an ecosystem. However, I do think resurrecting dinosaurs would be unbelievably cool. In the “Jurassic Park” universe, things had to go wrong so that there would be a story. Do you think it’s totally impossible for humans to build a closed environment like the one seen in the films that wouldn’t malfunction?

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