The blockbuster Jurassic Park franchise sparked the minds of many fanatical researchers.
Michael Crichton (the writer of the Jurassic Park novel) made the concept of de-extinction or bringing extinct species back from the dead seem so simple. His novel and the Jurassic Park films involved extracting DNA from a small drop of a dinosaurs blood inside a mosquito trapped in an amber fossil.
The dinosaurs DNA is then incubated in the yolk of a crocodiles egg to eventually form a living dinosaur. Obviously this is all fiction however, the possibility of bringing a species back from extinction is progressing. Ancient DNA research was inspired by the release of Jurassic Park (1993). As well as being the year the movie was released, 1993 was a pivotal point in the world of ancient DNA research. A team of scientists managed to extract DNA from a 130 million years old ancient weevil in an amber fossil. A weevil is a type of beetle. In that same year a palaeontologist named Jack Horner proposed a project to investigate DNA from dinosaurs. The research was funded by the ‘National Science Foundation’ simply because of the film. Unfortunately at this moment all attempts at securing dinosaur DNA have failed.
The focus of interest, however, has somewhat shifted. Scientists are proposing the high possibility of resurrecting more recently extinct species. There are a range of candidates for de-extinction such as the passenger pigeon, the tasmanian tiger and perhaps the most exemplary the woolly mammoth. Despite becoming extinct 3600 years ago, researchers have discovered that there is an abundance of woolly mammoth tissue which has extraordinary remained preserved in the frozen soil of Siberia. Scientists in Russia are considering to extract DNA from the frozen mammoth tissue and insert it into the egg cell of an Asian elephant. They are hoping the Asian elephant will act as the surrogate mother and give birth to a hybrid. This is the same method used which led to the birth of the famously cloned ‘Dolly the sheep’. However in this case there are two species involved not one – and one of them has been extinct for thousands of years.
Most scientists are not fond of the idea and believe it is a waste of time and money should be spent conserving the current environment. Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary biologists and expert on ancient DNA ,believes the technological advances of today is not adequate enough to allow scientists to carry out the de-extinction process.
“It’s a hard problem and a problem that probably won’t be solved without new and different biotechnology to what’s available today. But if it’s what we want to do we will eventually learn how to sequence the complete genome of an extinct animal. And then we will have completed step one” – Beth Shapiro.
It is fair to say Jurassic Park has indeed left a long and lasting legacy which makes us question our motivation for de-extinction. With the release of the film Jurassic World, this debate is set to take centre stage once again.