By Jordyn Hanover, Behavioral Neuroscience, 2017
In 1993, scientists were able to extract the DNA of an extinct, 120 million year old animal from a fossilized insect inside a piece of amber. These scientists then used this DNA to create a theme park where humans could view and interact with over a dozen species of dinosaurs. This, of course, is the plot of the film Jurassic Park. However, the Spielberg classic sensationalized the true scientific discovery: the successful DNA sequencing of a weevil (beetle) from inside Lebanese amber, which was estimated to be 120–135 million years old. Due in part to the release of the classic film, research into de-extinction, or the process of cloning currently extinct animals and discovering dinosaur DNA, exploded.
Twenty years later, the woolly mammoth seems the most likely animal to be brought back — scientists have discovered DNA that could potentially be used to clone the mammoth. However, even if partially viable, DNA alone isn’t enough to bring these species back to life. It is possible that the use of genome editing could potentially fill in some of the gaps, likely from closely related relatives. In the more recent film Jurassic World, scientists use DNA from a combination of different dinosaurs to create their new hybrid creature, the Indominus Rex, as well as genetic material from tree frogs and cuttlefish to add flashy and dangerous features such as camouflage.
In addition to the debate of whether or not de-extinction can be done, the debate as to whether or not it should be done still has yet to be resolved. While the more famous “Ice Age animals” such as saber-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths, are the most commonly considered and publicized for de-extinction, the question remains of how and where these animals would live. There are much better candidates for de-extinction such as certain species of sloths and butterflies, who might be able to reintegrate into existing ecosystems much more smoothly, and whose natural habitats may still exist currently.
So, is a Jurassic Park possible? Science says no. Not only does the method to clone currently extinct animals not exist, it’s never been done before. Additionally, even if such a method existed the fact still remains that there is no dinosaur DNA to use. However, scientists are attempting to make de-extinction a reality, and when that happens, it is possible that we will see formerly extinct animals once again become an important part of their ecosystems.