One of my all-time favorite sci-fi flicks is the 1993 blockbuster, Jurassic Park, based on an advanced technology capable of bringing extinct dinosaurs back to life. The brainchild of this tale was Michael Crichton, a physician turned writer who tragically died of lymphoma in 2008 after an incredibly illustrious and prolific career as a novelist and filmmaker.
Unknown to most people, Crichton based his story on real science and a research paper in particular that considered whether ancient blood encapsulated in an amber preserved prehistoric mosquito could supply the requisite DNA to resurrect actual dinosaurs which walked the Earth 65 million years ago.
Fast forward almost three decades later and the topic raised in Jurassic Park is still hotly debated. Many geneticists take a hard line that DNA cannot survive intact for more than 6 million years – give or take – thus dooming any effort to rejuvenate the distant past. Curiously, even if this objection is confirmed, there would be multiple ancient species within this timeframe capable of recreation including our hominid predecessors. For example, Neanderthals died out approximately 40,000 years ago and would be an intriguing species to restore. Contrary to popular belief, Neanderthals were not dumb or brutish but had larger brains than our own species – homo sapiens.
It may also be possible to retrieve fragments of dinosaur DNA combined with modern samples to foster the birth of hybrid dinosaurs. This approach was anticipated by Crichton in his brilliant film where dinosaur DNA was implanted in chickens (the descendants of these massive reptiles) to produce the Real McCoy – so to speak.
A real-life bio paleontologist, Jack Horner, who inspired the fictional character – Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park, is actively developing the DNA technology featured in the film. His laboratory is pursuing different genetic approaches to bring Crichton’s dream to fruition.
So, is it possible to bring the “terrible lizards” of the ancient past back to life? Should we even be pursuing this research? How about a more achievable goal of retrieving the DNA of the not so ancient U.S. founding fathers, brilliant contemporary minds such as Albert Einstein, or even the founder of this intellectual feat – Michael Crichton – back to life? We could certainly benefit from these visionaries during the bleak days all of us inhabit.
Come join us in the June edition of future2050.net as we focus on the science and promise of Jurassic Park.