Can you make a DINOSAUR? Jurassic Park & Jurassic World in real life

Can you make a DINOSAUR? Jurassic Park & Jurassic World in real life

The Jurassic Park and World franchise tells
the story of dinosaurs brought-to-life in the perfect marriage of genetics, paleontology and
Jeffrey Goldblum. But does the science check out? Can we clone a T-rex or bring a raptor back from extinction? Can we actually make a dinosaur? Let’s find out! Before we get to the real science, let’s make a quick review of how you bring dinosaurs back to life in the fantasy world of Jurassic Park and world. It goes a little something like this: Find super old mosquitos preserved in amber.
Extract the blood of dinosaurs they fed on. Supplement missing segments with frog DNA. Put it all together in an ostrich or emu egg. Wait ’til the little critters hatch. And make a bunch of movies where each and every time the dinosaurs run wild and folks get killed because hey, “Life finds a way.” So long as Newman and his evil wheeze don’t
spoil things, you’re in business! (“Newman!”) What’s so hard about that? Let’s take a look in six elements. Mosquitoes – Did they live with dinosaurs? Turns out there really were mosquitoes or
mosquito-like bugs back in the day. And when we say ‘back in the day’ we’re talking
65 million years ago, scientists estimate of “When dinosaurs ruled the earth.” Mosquitoes feed on whatever’s around (including
reptiles), so sure, it makes sense that they would blood from a dinosaur. So far, so good. Number two. Could petrified tree resin preserve DNA for
millions of years? Probably not. And by that we mean no. The transformation from liquid resin to solid
amber is thought to take thousands of years, and involves dehydration, intense pressure
and temperature fluctuations. None of these are really friendly to fragile
DNA molecules. Meanwhile, enzymes in the dead mosquito start
breaking its body down right away. These same enzymes will also break any apart
dino DNA found in the gut. For these and other reasons, scientists have
yet to find any DNA in amber. So, while amber DOES protect the shape and
husk of an insect, and looks pretty cool on a cane, it doesn’t have magical preservative
powers for DNA. And “Amber” as a name has seen a sharp decline
in popularity ever since the first movie came out. Which probably has to mean something. But don’t just blame Amber. The biggest challenge to finding dinosaur
DNA is by far the sheer age involved. DNA doesn’t just keep on existing outside
of a live host for very long. And 65 million years is a ridiculously long
time for anything to remain intact. One study put the half-life of DNA in bone
at just 521 years, meaning every 521 years half of the bonds that hold DNA together will
break. Then half again after that, and half again
after that. Before long you’re left with useless fragments. DNA isn’t just a short molecule, either. It’s an incredibly long chain, sometimes billions
of bits of information in length. It’s the order these bits appear in that determines
DNA’s instructions: how to build a dinosaur, make a plant, grow a Chris Pratt and so forth. If half of the connections break every 500 years, things get impossibly messy real quick. Even under ideal conditions–even if you froze
DNA and kept a close eye on it, this molecule might last one-and-a-half million years. But… that’s it! Consider that the oldest usable DNA ever recovered is from this 700,000 year-old horse, which sounds really old. But dinosaurs would be nearly 100 times older. Let’s pretend that somehow we did a mostly complete get a mostly-complete set of dinosaur DNA. We can just fill in the incomplete gaps using frog DNA like they do in the movie, right? Not quite. One of the problems is we’d first need to
know what ‘complete’ looks like. Every species we know of has its own unique
arrangement and size of genetic code called a “Genome.” And we can graph genomes on this handy chart. Humans and Jeffrey Goldblum have about three-and-a-third billion bits of information, split into 46 sections called “chromosomes.” A brown bear has two-and-a-third billion base pairs carried on 74 chromosomes. A frog is here. A shark here. And a whole bunch of other plants and animals, including the pineapple. Point is there’s no “one-size-fits-all” genetic code. So finding just part of a dinosaur’s genome doesn’t get us very far. There’s no way to tell what’s missing, or rather how much is missing. Does this dinosaur fit here or here? Doe it have 8 or 80 chromosomes? You can’t do much without knowing how many pieces there are and how they fit together. It’d be like filming a movie without a script. (“It is the external wounds which heal the
quickest.”) True story though: Since we won’t ever have
dinosaur DNA because it’s way too old, some scientists think the best way forward is to
evolve one of dinosaurs descendants, a chicken, backwards to find clues. So, if you think your job’s weird, well you haven’t applied enough places. (“I believe you have my stapler?”) A second problem with blending frog and dinosaur
has to do with complexity. Splicing DNA from one organism into another
is very difficult but possible. It’s called ‘Recombinant DNA’ or ‘Biomolecular
Engineering.’ And it’s brought us such wonders as: Human
growth hormone, human insulin, golden rice and better tasting cheese. But these success stories involve comparatively
simple transformations: modifying or replacing small chunks of DNA in just one or two locations. We know rice and Vitamin A very well, perform a little
magic in a lab (“Fool of a Took!”) and poof, you’ve got golden rice. What’s proposed in Jurassic Park is infinitely
more complex. “Say again?” “We have a T-rex!” Take one-of-a-kind incomplete DNA from a virtually unknown and literally
extinct species we’ve never studied or seen in the flesh, then patch in DNA from a totally different species. This sort of wizardry is generations removed
from our current abilities. It makes for great sci-fi movies but will
probably always be impossible. Forget all of that and say we actually have
a complete set of dino DNA. Now all we need is a host to grow it in. Would ostrich or emu egg work? Probably not. For one thing, dinosaur eggs came in many shapes and sizes. Some species eggs’ were round, others long
and skinny. Some were as big as a volleyball, others tennis ball size. These birds hatch from their egg after 40
or 50 days but dinosaurs are thought to take two to four times that long. So your little guy’s gonna run out of food
or space or both he’s fully grown. Another problem happens microscopically. An ostrich egg–like every other kind of egg–is hard-wired to help a particular embryo develop. In this case an ostrich egg is expecting to
host an ostrich. When you put something else in there instead,
like say a chicken, the teeny, tiny structures that allow nutrition to move from the egg
into the embryo don’t form right. Cells starve for energy and your embryo dies. All of this is to say that even having a complete set of dinosaur DNA isn’t enough to grow a dinosaur. It’s very likely you’d also need an actual, authentic, fresh-from-its-mom dinosaur egg. And if we’re having a hard time scraping together a couple molecules of DNA from back in the day, there’s no way we’re going to find a viable dinosaur egg. Jurassic Park is easily the best dinosaur
movie ever made. And the possibility of bringing these animals back from extinction is incredibly exciting! But there are a lot of obstacles to this,
the biggest of which is probably the sheer age of DNA involved. We don’t have any original dinosaur DNA, we never will, and anyone who says otherwise is selling you a load of dinosaur… “Dino… droppings? Droppings?” Why do you love Jurassic Park? What’s your ‘spirt dinosaur’? How would you caption this Ian Malcom pose? What movie should we review next? Here are more videos you’re sure to love. Thank you for watching and remember: “A highly intelligent animal.” “Clever girl!” “It’s a Unix system.” “I’m fairly alarmed here!” “Run!” “Hold on to your butts!” “Must go faster!” “So what do we do now?” “Probably stick together. For survival.” “Life, uh, finds a way.”

Randy Schultz

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