September 14, 2013 - On the same day that the latest installment of the Jurassic Park film series has been confirmed, a study published in PLOS One has detailed experiments that seem to demonstrate once and for all that dinosaurs will never again walk the Earth.
The 1993 film, based on a book by Michael Crichton, depicts a theme park island filled with dinosaurs, resurrected from ancient DNA
extracted from fossilized mosquitoes trapped in amber. For a while, that science didn’t seem to be entirely fiction. In the early 1990s, several scientists announced they had extracted DNA
from insects fossilized in amber
as long as 130 million years ago. Insects from this time in Earth’s history, the early Cretaceous
period, would have flown among dinosaurs (including giant, long-necked sauropods, among the largest creatures ever on land) as well as creatures such as flying pterosaurs, swimming plesiosaurs, feathered birds, and mammals.
This Lebanese amber was until recently the oldest in the world, older than the more common Dominican amber, which formed around 16 million years ago and the 49-million-year-old amber of the Baltic. But last year, tiny mites were found for the first time in amber dating from the Triassic period—230 million years ago.
While the premise of the film—that dinosaur DNA
could be extracted from the guts of a preserved mosquito that had recently dined on one—seems reasonable, the fragile nature of DNA
and the huge expanse of time that has passed have led many experts to doubt claims to have extracted any DNA
that old—including DNA
from the insect itself.
David Penney, a palaeontologist and expert in amber-preserved spiders and insects at the University of Manchester, carried out experiments to try to confirm once and for all whether DNA
could be extracted from creatures fossilized in amber. With Terry Brown, an ancient-DNA
expert also at the University of Manchester, they used the latest “next generation” DNA
extraction and sampling techniques to avoid DNA
“We used Manchester’s specialized, dedicated laboratories that are only used for analyzing ancient DNA,” Penney said.