Could T-Rex DNA pave the way for eighth wonder of the world?
Jurassic Park is a book, a movie, a fictional entity composed first by Michael Crichton and then crafted on-screen in horror, in adventure and in ways never before seen in film, capturing the imagination of the entire world. For many years I have felt an emotional connection with these films, whether it’s the iconic John Williams soundtrack, the way seeing dinosaurs on the big screen allows an escape from reality, or the shared associations with the characters – it’s a wonderful story.
Over the years there has been countless rumours of DNA findings, a lot of well-educated people making certain claims that this story could come to life, but could they really do it? Could somebody give a real Jurassic Park to the world?
Well, to answer that in the simplest way possible: “Life, uh, finds a way…”
Scientists, Archaeologists and Palaeontologists have spent years studying dinosaurs, digging up fossils and analysing findings of bone structures and the likes – but it’s DNA that many have been looking for, and they might not have to look much further.
Over 68 million years ago a pregnant Tyrannosaurus Rex wandered the lands of Montana, but just before laying its egg the dinosaur died – and now she’s been found. On March 15th Discovery News’ Jennifer Viegas reported the possible game-changing discovery, believed to be within the region of 16-20 years old.
An assistant research professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University, Lindsay Zanno, told the discovery channel: “We have some evidence that fragments of DNA may be preserved in dinosaur fossils, but this remains to be tested further.”
Unlike Jurassic Park’s story with mosquitos and amber, it was in fact the female T-Rex’s medullary bone, commonly found in reptiles and chickens, that has kept the chances of cloning the animals in the future very much alive.
For many years I have wondered what it would be like to physically engage with dinosaurs, and while the technology might not be readily available to bring them to life right now, discovering the process of extracting dino DNA will be crucial for potential cloning processes in the long-term.
Cloning in Jurassic Park provided viewers with some rather special moments, both in an emotional and controversial sense – because you know, they look great but they eat people. Now, although Jurassic Park did change some of the aesthetics to make for more emphatic viewing, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The original inspiration for Jurassic Park’s Dr. Alan Grant was in fact Jack Horner, a palaeontologist from Shelby, Montana. Ahead of the latest instalment to the franchise, Jurassic World, Horner made some interesting remarks in regards to a real-life Jurassic Park, claimng cloning dinosaurs as pets could be just a decade away.
“The proof of concept has been accomplished. We can get teeth into a bird and just recently a team from Yale and Harvard have managed to retro-engineer [a bird’s] beak back into a dinosaur-looking mouth,” said Horner. “So we basically have the tail to reinstate, and to transform the wings back into an arm and hand.”
“We already make transgenic animals,” he said. “We make glowfish, you can go get one at the pet store. That’s a transgenic animal — a zebra fish that has had glow genes from jellyfish implanted into the embryo during development that makes it glow in the dark. We have that proof of concept, so we know we can make transgenic animals.”
The idea of having a small T-Rex running around the house might not be everybody’s cup of tea, however it’s quite possible that this is the direction of travel that scientists are looking to pursue. Presumably, it would allow them to not only build, but study dinosaur characteristics on a smaller platform before – if the opportunity ever does arise – creating an entire park full of them.
“We might find a couple of these genes tomorrow or it might take 10 years” Horner concluded.
In the story of Jurassic Park we’re introduced to both John Hammond and Dr. Alan Grant, a perfect (well, perfect until the inmates start running the asylum) blend of wealth and knowhow. The mistake that Hammond was deeply engrained in the park’s security, and there are still a lot of questions marks in terms of how cloned dinosaurs could be contained effectively, but that won’t stop me from wanting a real Jurassic Park to come to fruition.
After watching the fragile baby raptor edging its way out of the egg shell, people nurturing and caring for the struggling Stegosaurus, people interacting with groups of vicious Velociraptors, it all looks and feels so real in the films. One can only wonder that if developments in palaeontology do fall favorably towards regular DNA findings, whether or not it would actually be sustainable to clone them.
As a matter of fact, an Australian billionaire did get approval to create a real-life Jurassic Park back in 2013. Mining magnate Clive Palmer had big plans for the park, but sadly his experience in mining didn’t allow him to explore the amber route either, instead he opted for some huge robots (like the one included in the photo above).
It’s not exactly the dream set of enclosures I’ve been waiting for, but nevertheless, I’ll always be in hope that a billionaire with the passion, drive and determination of John Hammond comes along and delivers a Jurassic Park-style project. Whether it’s tomorrow, next year or in decades to come, somebody will mutter those famous words for real…
“Welcome, to Jurassic Park.”