Jurassic Park Impossible

By Alice Orszulok

Researchers explain why a real-life Jurassic Park isn’t on the cards.

Jurassic Park got this right: ancient insects from the time of the dinosaurs can be accidentally caught and preserved in amber, a stone made out of fossilised tree resin. Some of these insects may have fed on dinosaur blood. This led researchers to believe that dino DNA would be discovered in these insects, allowing scientists to clone and bring dinosaurs back to life—just like in the movie directed by Steven Spielberg. Unfortunately, for Jurassic Park fans, the chances of this happening are practically zero.

In the early 1900s scientists from the University of California believed they had successfully removed gene fragments from a 130-million-year-old bee that had been preserved in amber. “Sooner or later, we’re going to find amber containing some biting insect that filled its stomach with blood from a dinosaur before getting trapped in the resin that eventually turned into amber,” the study’s leader, George Poinar, excitedly told The New York Times back in 1992. “The blood may contain actual dinosaur DNA. That will be an exciting discovery,” he said in the same interview.

The success story was proved false when a study at the Natural History Museum, London, was unable to replicate the experiment. Researchers believe that what was thought to be ancient bee DNA was only modern DNA that accidentally contaminated the sample.

The early experiment on amber fossils used a technique called PCR amplification, which takes one small piece of DNA and then copies it thousands or millions of times. David Penney from the University of Manchester says that this technique tends to lead to false positives.”  In their latest experiment, Penney and his team of scientists used a new, more sensitive technique that picks up even the smallest strands of DNA. They examined relatively young insect fossils (60 to 10,600 years old) that were trapped inside copal, which is resin that hasn’t fully hardened into amber. No DNA was found. It’s therefore thought that the possibility of finding DNA in amber, which is much older than copal, is almost zero.

“If we cannot pull DNA from copal, then we absolutely cannot do it from amber either,” Penney told The Verge. “So this would be the end of the road for these investigations.”

If Jurassic Park is anything to go by, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Source [PLOS ONE]

Keyword [DNA

DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is the material that carries all the information about how a living thing will look and function. Each piece of information is carried on a different section of the DNA. These section are called genes.