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Friday, 2 June 2017

Dino Dreams Shattered

There can hardly be one of us (well from the male half of the population), who don't harbour a secret dream about the Jurassic park being true ... that mosquito's trapped in amber will allow us to reconstitute DNA strands of the mighty beasts of yesteryear ... whether that's the Woolly Mammoth or the Tyrannosaurus Rex .... but so far its not happened.

Mammoth Reconstruction Is Still A Dream

There are in fact a number of projects under way both in Russia and South Korean to 'recreate' Woolly Mammoths ... I say 'recreate' because we have in fact not got the full DNA and have 'filled in' the missing parts from the Asian elephant which is its nearest living descendent. This means that anything produced by these projects would look like a mammoth, eat like a mammoth, but would in fact be a hybrid.

Similarly, the north American Bison only has a very small pure population (in Yellowstone park) as the majority have some cattle DNA in their genetic make up even though they look like bison. So perhaps that makes the question of whether something that looks, sounds and farts like a mammoth, a mammoth, somewhat academic. After all we northern Europeans are 3% Neanderthals, but are nonetheless, Homo-sapiens.

Tyrannosaurus Attack .... Cool But Impossible!

However coming back to the dreams of resurrecting the big beasts, the dinosaurs, I was very disappointed to read recently that although mosquito's do potentially hold some dinosaur DNA in their stomachs, it would have degraded beyond usability millions of millennia ago. It turns out that being stored in amber is not one of the better methods of keeping DNA ... which means my bit of aber with a mosquito in it is not going to have dinosaur DNA!

But even if the DNA was all there and the sequence was all recovered, we could probably not successfully recreate anything greater than a Velociraptor or small bird like dinosaur .... and not just because of the difficulty of finding a suitable egg host, such as a kimono lizard (artificial wombs are possible to host larger eggs), no its to do with oxygen.

The very large dinosaurs were around in an epoch, the Cretaceous, where the oxygen levels were far higher than they are now (as well as ambient temperatures being 4c warmer, and sea temperature averaged at a mind boggling 37c). If we dropped a Tyrannosaur Rex from the past into the Brazilian or African rainforest, he might be OK with the temperature, but he would probably start gasping, collapse and simply asphyxiate or die of altitude sickness. Air bubbles trapped in the very amber we hoped to find dinosaur DNA in, show that oxygen levels were about 35 per cent, as opposed to our current levels of 21 per cent.

So our 'Jurassic park' would have to be more like a hospital ward than a park, and the big guys could never escape and rampage across the landscape like Godzilla, simply because outside of a protected oxygen bubble environment, they would take about 10 spaces before deflating like pricked balloons.

A Boys Daydream .... Demolished

Reality sucks at times ....

4 comments:

  1. Fascinating. I hadn't considered temperature and oxygen levels but then they're the ninth and tenth hurdles and I'm not sure that either the first or the second have even been cleared yet.

    Even if there existed some complete dinosaur DNA, I don't think that that would be enough to duplicate one - it's a very important part of the cell of a living organisme but as I understand it, DeoxyriboNucleic Acid is not the magic spell that we like to think it is, the mechanisms for reading and executing the instructions are important too.

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    Replies
    1. Well I admit I am not a scientist, but maybe we can backward engineer 'Chickenosaurus'? ... there is an ongoing project to reawaken dormant, ancient genetic traits to make chickens appear more dinosaur-like. It’s called the ‘Chickenosaurus’ project. In fact its not really about reverse-engineering chickens to make dinosaurs. Its engineering a chickens genomes to make something that looks a lot like a dinosaur .. its called 'atavism'.

      Actually I suspect that if they ever get the full deoxyribonucleic acid of a dinosaur, then they will overcome the other issues .... we really are very clever monkeys.

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    2. Your piece of amber may not contain dinosaur DNA but this piece contains something just as interesting.

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    3. I saw that story ... as you say its one interesting bit of amber, and it has primitive ants as well! top dollar for that one as opposed to my £10 piece.

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A middle aged orange male ... So 'un' PC it's not true....