With ‘Jurassic World‘ preparing to take a massive bite out of this weekend’s box office, the nostalgia of many who saw the very first “Jurassic” film comes to mind and with it, the fascination of dinosaurs. It’s been 22 years since the idea of genetically cloned dinosaurs living in modern times first presented itself on the big screen and now with the “park” becoming a reality in this 4th installment of the franchise, it begs to wonder… could a ‘Jurassic World’ theme park really be plausible?
To explore that idea, ScienceFiction.com went to the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles where renowned Paleontologist and science advisor for all four “Jurassic” films, Dr. Jack Horner, spoke on how close “Jurassic World” is to his area of expertise.
In ‘Jurassic Park,’ dinosaurs were cloned by using paleo-DNA that was extracted from mosquitos that were suspended in amber. Missing strands of the dino DNA where spliced in using DNA from frogs. Those who saw the film know that didn’t work out well and chaos ensued as well as questions of ethical responsibility that comes with bioengineering and messing with Mother Nature.
22 years later, the questions are the same but has science now caught up to the films?
According to Horner:
“In ‘Jurassic World,’ the new one, we have a genetically modified dinosaur that’s actually more plausible than bringing back dinosaurs from the historic past. So we’ve basically caught up to science.”
The genetically modified dinosaur Horner was referencing is the Indominus Rex which was created in the film by splicing the DNA of the cloned Giganotosaurus, Rugops, Majungasaurus, and Carnotaurus dinosaurs. Granted, the process is not cloning like in the first film, but the concept of transgenetic engineering is what could lead us to seeing our first living dinosaur:
“The cool thing about making a hybrid is that we can take a whole bunch of genes from other animals and mix them together to make a new animal, which is actually more plausible than bringing them back… By turning on ancestral genes, we can make transgenic animals… A transgenic dinosaur is actually easier to make than one of the real ones.”
Transgenetic engineering is not new and currently scientists are working on creating a “Chickensaurus.” As dinosaurs are more closely related to birds (believe it or not, real dinosaurs actually had feathers and could be quite colorful), using reverse engineering and identifying the pathway of evolution, scientists hope to work backwards to create an animal that looks like a dinosaur. The process of reverse engineering so far has produced chicks with dinosaur snouts – more specifically a velociraptor snout. Scientists are now looking at how a bird’s wings and loss of a tail have evolved from their prehistoric ancestors and seeing if they can reverse the process. Great strides are being made in this field such that Horner predicts that we may actually see a Chickensaurus within the next decade.
So the science for a real life “Jurassic World” is there and like all scientific discoveries, there comes the questions of ethics and the possible consequences of the work, both good and bad. For now, that is a subject for another time but knowing what we know about dinosaurs and their relation to Aves, Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ just took on a whole new meaning.