There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who are fascinated by the world created in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and others who are petrified by its sheer possibility. But ever since director Steven Spielberg brought the novel to life with his 1993 film of the same name, one question has been on many minds. Is it possible to recreate dinosaurs, given the advances in science and the study of DNA? In Jurassic Park, scientists use DNA to create a variety of dinosaur species, including Triceratops, Velociraptor, and the fearsome T. Rex.
In reality, it’s easier imagined than executed, experts say. William Ausich, professor emeritus of paleontology at Ohio State University, explained in a column in The Conversation that the task becomes extremely difficult given that all that remains of dinosaurs are their fossils. DNA, on the other hand, is very easily obtained from the ‘soft parts’ of a creature. These can be organs, blood vessels, nerves, muscles and fat, he said.
Responding to a question from a five-year-old, William Ausich said, “The fossils have been submerged in ancient mud, minerals and water for tens of millions of years and come from the dinosaur’s so-called ‘hard parts’ — its bones, teeth and skull.” The soft part, Ausich said, was “either decomposed or eaten by another dinosaur.”
Explaining the complexity of DNA, he added, “DNA — which stands for deoxyribonucleic acid — is something in every cell of every organism that has ever lived on Earth, including dinosaurs.” He compared it to molecules that carry the genetic code, which in turn is described as “a set of instructions that help the body and mind grow and thrive”.
And these molecules decay, Ausich said. “Recent studies show that DNA deteriorates and eventually breaks down after about 7 million years,” he explained, citing an article published in the journal Nature.
Since the last dinosaur died 65 million years ago, the chances of finding DNA were extremely slim. Ausich said that even if the scientists could find fragments of a dinosaur, they wouldn’t be able to create a complete dinosaur.
“Instead, they would have to combine the fragments with the DNA of a contemporary animal to create a living organism,” he added. According to the paleontologist, this organism would not be a complete or actual dinosaur, but rather a hybrid of a dinosaur and a bird or a reptile.