Can we Really Clone Dinosaurs?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Can we Really Clone Dinosaurs?

Everyone is once again asking, “Can we clone dinosaurs?” The answer is easy: No.

But there’s more to the story than just cloning.

DNA — deoxyribonucleic acid — holds the genetic code of all living things. The Jurassic Park idea is that an ancient mosquito will have dined on dino blood and then perhaps gotten trapped in tree resin, dying.

Millions of years later, we come across the mosquito and dino blood and then geneticists work their magic to extract the DNA from the mosquito’s last meal and rebuild the dinosaur who got annoyed by said mosquito (can you imagine the frustration a T-rex would have trying to swat a mosquito?). The thing is, it’s just that: magic.

Not to say that geneticists haven’t done some amazing things (think: cloning in general). It’s just that getting that dinosaur DNA is proving to be extremely difficult.

Scientists have actually tried to extract DNA from tree resin. A 2013 study by researchers at The University of Manchester found that extracting DNA from insects preserved in copal (tree resin) that was between 60 to 10,600 years old, failed to yield any DNA at all from the insects themselves.

The problem is that the resin is highly porous on a molecular level, allowing gases to travel in and out. Any DNA that once existed would be completely degraded.

As for extracting DNA from fossils, scientists say that that, too, is impossible as DNA doesn’t survive the processes of fossilization. The bones essentially turn to stone with organics being replaced with minerals.

But that doesn’t stop the public fascination with bringing these creatures back from the past.

“Someone summarized it as, they’re big, fierce and extinct,” said Donald Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta. “So they’re monsters that really lived, but they’re safely away from us.”

And their sheer size is perhaps another reason.

But should scientists be trying to recreate beasts that went extinct? Could they be playing with fire (have they not seen Jurassic Park?)?