Genetics, bring back the dinosaurs!

05 December 2017

Question

Could we use genetic engineering to create super dinosaurs?

Answer

Chris Smith asked geneticist, Patrick Short from the University of Cambridge, to engineer an answer to this question from Georgia. 

Patrick - Ever since Jurassic Park came out I think this question has been of interest. What happened in that movie is they found a mosquito in amber that had bitten a dinosaur right before it was preserved, and they could recover DNA and then use that to resurrect the dinosaur. The unfortunate reality is that the half life of DNA is about 500 years and the dinosaurs became extinct 60 million years ago or so. So the likelihood of finding well preserved dinosaur DNA is almost impossible, but it’s not to say it is impossible.

However, there are scientist working on the Woolly Mammoth because it went extinct only about 4000 years ago, so they’ve been able to find plenty of good DNA in the frozen tundra. They’re editing using this CRISPR technology that we were talking about to edit the genome of an Asian Elephant in order to make it more Woolly Mammoth like as an attempt to resurrect it, so it’s pretty cool stuff, yeah.

Chris - Not a dinosaur though?

Patrick - No, not a dinosaur.

Chris - You don’t think there’s any chance? Because we had Eske Willerslev on the programme a month or so ago and he was saying he’s got the record, at the moment, for the oldest remains that he’s managed to get DNA from.

Patrick - That’s a horse, right?

Chris - Round about 700 thousand years. So you’re saying with the DNA, every 500 hundred years you get half as much as you had before. Do you mean it falls apart more?

Patrick - Yes, it falls apart. So 700,000 to 65 million is still quite a big jump, but I am an optimist for sure so I’m hoping they figure it out. They’ve got well preserved dinosaur bones but they haven’t been able to get usable DNA out of it, but it may be better in the future; this kind of  technology is evolving very, very quickly.

Chris - Phillip?

Phillip - I was just going to say presumably you could go the other way? You could start with a modern lizard and kind of back evolve it.

Patrick - Turn a chicken into a raptor of some sort. Yeah, I think you’re onto something.

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