I’m sure we’ve all loved the dinosaur-fueled mayhem of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Jurassic Park. But I’m also pretty sure that you didn’t inspect it with a critical, scientific eye. If you had, you might not have loved the movie as much as you did! Let’s delve into how Jurassic Park‘s fictional cloning system diverges from scientific fact.
From Amber, Blood – From Blood, Dinosaurs
In Jurassic Park, John Hammond’s bioengineering company InGen comes upon a presumably ingenious method of cloning dinosaurs. First, they gather mosquitoes from the prehistoric era. But not just any mosquitoes – mosquitoes that have been encased in amber. For you see, these mosquitoes had, millions of years ago, sipped on dinosaur blood. Thus, the blood is still present in their stomachs millions of years later. The intrepid InGen scientists then extract the blood from the fossilized mosquitoes – and then extract dinosaur DNA from that blood. A bit of amphibian DNA mixed in, and… poof! A big old Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Now, of course, Jurassic Park is a movie. It has no mandate to be scientifically accurate. But it’s still a worthwhile exercise to pick apart why exactly it is inaccurate. There are a number of reasons why this method wouldn’t work if some real-life InGen tried it out.
Problems with the DNA
Jurassic Park assumes that InGen acquires perfect-quality DNA from the mosquitoes it finds. In the real world, however, finding this “perfect genetic code” would be almost impossible.
Right now, scientists don’t know how to precisely identify dinosaur DNA. They do not know its “exact sequence” of genetic code. How would they locate it in the mosquito’s blood?
There probably would not be enough DNA. As of now, the biggest amount of DNA that scientists have found is a sequence of 250 base pairs. It takes billions of base pairs to theoretically clone a specimen. The odds are largely against scientists finding enough dinosaur DNA to actually clone a dinosaur.
Even if scientists located the right amount of DNA, it could be damaged in some way. Perhaps the mosquito’s stomach acids transformed it. Or when it was exposed to the air or water in a scientific laboratory, it was similarly malformed. Or, perhaps it got mixed with the DNA of the surrounding mosquitos. There are many such transformative factors.
And if the DNA’s OK…
Okay, let’s assume that real-life scientists actually luck out. They discover a perfect mosquito specimen that is close to bursting with dinosaur blood – and dinosaur DNA. There are still two important reasons why that wouldn’t be enough to ensure a successful cloning operation.
How would plant-eating dinosaurs eat? These herbivores would be used to the plants that existed 65 million years ago. Since then, plants have evolved numerous “poisons and other protective measures to prevent being eaten”. These protections would strike back against the unlucky dinosaur consumers, who simply would not be equipped to deal with these defenses.
How would all varieties of dinosaurs deal with disease? As plants have changed over 65 million years, bacteria and viruses have changed as well. Diseases that we don’t see as a problem would likely prove to be a huge threat for dinosaurs. Can you imagine a T-rex collapsing after being stricken with the common cold.
Concluding: Jurassic Park was Fiction, not Fact
Let’s remember that Jurassic Park was a well-constructed work of fiction, and it should not be treated as fact. The nature of dinosaur DNA and environmental factors have together made dinosaur cloning nearly impossible.
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