Genetically-engineered dinosaurs may still reside solely in the realm of fiction, but one paleontologist, who consulted on the original Jurassic Park, and its upcoming sequel, Jurassic World, doesn’t think that will remain true for long.
Efforts to clone dinosaurs go as far back as the first film in the Jurassic Park franchise, which was released in 1993. That year, paleontologist Jack Horner, a consultant on the film, attempted to retrieve dinosaur DNA from fossilized bones, along with then-graduate student Mary Schweitzer. Their attempt failed, and Horner doesn’t believe that intact dinosaur DNA will be found so long after the animals went extinct.
— Mori (@4omgnewsafrica) June 1, 2015
Speaking with Business Insider, Horner noted that in Jurassic Park, gaps in dinosaur DNA were filled in with genetic material from frogs. In reality, he said, that technique likely won’t work.
“If you did the thing they did in Jurassic Park, you’d basically have a frog.”
Two decades later and still undaunted, Horner believes he has another way to work towards resurrecting dinosaurs, however. Modern birds are direct descendents of dinosaurs, and while they may not look like their prehistoric ancestors, Horner asserts that the required genetic material likely lies dormant within them. Researchers could theoretically induce those dinosaur-like traits to be expressed, a process that, in at least one instance, has already taken place.
Earlier this year, it was announced that researchers from Yale and Harvard had devised a way to turn the beaks of chicken embryos into snouts that resemble those sported by dinosaurs. As the New York Times reports, none of the embryos hatched, but the desired changes were successfully accomplished.
— Popular Mechanics (@PopMech) May 29, 2015
Horner has referred to the chicken study as a proof-of-concept that dinosaur traits still reside in the genetic codes of birds, and can be accessed. Multiple research teams are working on understanding other aspects of the concept, and with proper funding, Horner believes that dinosaurs could be reverse engineered from birds within a decade. Yet the resulting animal would be a new species of dinosaur, not an exact one that went extinct 65 million years ago, as the process of bird evolution took place over epochs of time.
While resurrecting a species using the genetic code of extinct animals may seem like fiction, it has been accomplished at least once before, as the Inquisitr previously reported. Citing a variety of reasons for pursing this research, including possible medical advances applicable to humans, Horner notes that a genetically engineered dinosaur is a very real possibility, even if it isn’t cloned.
[Photo by Nicky Loh / Getty Images]