The scientists in the film Jurassic Park
reconstructed dinosaurs from DNA preserved in
That fiction is unlikely
ever to become fact
because DNA simply is
not tough enough to
survive in that way.
But reconstructing a
dinosaur from genes
passed down the evolutionary tree to modern
birds might be viable before the end of the
century, according to scientists in the United
"On the timescale of 50-100 years... you might
conceivably be able to alter the DNA of a
chicken, say, to reconstruct something that
looks more like a dinosaur," David Stern, an
evolutionary biologist at Princeton University
told the BBC.
The speculation may be justified because the
current explosion of information about the
genetic make-up of various creatures, plants
and organisms has made it clear just how many
modern genes are closely related or even
identical to those of long extinct life forms.
Moving from this
actually designing a
creature is, however, a
"You can imagine that if
we have some
understanding of how
the same genes are
used in, say, a chicken
and a lizard to generate the differences
between those two species, then we can
imagine trying to reconstruct something that
looks more like a dinosaur.
"You would have to change the way that
those genes are used during development to,
say, make the bones larger, or longer, or
shorter," David Stern explained.
"What we're really seeking is a very basic
understanding of how these genes operate
during development in a very wide range of
organisms," he said.
As Philip Cohen writes in the magazine New
Scientist, there have been some initial
A Californian team has managed to get the
beaks of chicken embryos to grow tooth buds,
something their ancestors lost the ability to do
60 million years ago.
Any dinosaur put together using these
techniques would be unlikely to be a perfect
replica of an extinct one. It would more likely
be a generic prototype, combining different
features and forms.
David Stern says that we should be using the
time we have before such things are possible
to consider what they would mean.
"It's going to raise a number of ethical
questions. It's a very difficult problem to think
about right now because it's such a new
problem," he said.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Oct 12 2001 - 14:39:49 MDT