San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature Connection[BRCC San Diego Natural History Museum: Paleontology]
The Science of "Jurassic Park"
Frequently Asked Questions

In the movies "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World," scientists cloned dinosaurs from DNA found in prehistoric blood-sucking insects preserved in amber. How real is this premise?

Will extinct dinosaurs ever be brought back to life?
How were dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park" created?
Could you find and insect in amber with a blood meal still in it?
Would there be DNA left in the fossilized insect's last meal?
If DNA from blood were inside an insect, could it be removed?
Could a dinosaur be made from a piece of dinosaur DNA?
If scientist were able to get the entire genetic code for a dinosaur, could the dinosaurs then be recreated?
Has any kind of fossil DNA ever been found?

Will extinct dinosaurs ever be brought back to life?

With today's technology it is impossible to recreate extinct dinosaurs. It is extremely unlikely that scientists will ever be able to bring them back to life. Only with a quantum leap in scientific understanding could such a project be successful.

How were dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park" created?

In the movie, researchers find fossilized blood-sucking insects that had bitten living dinosaurs. Soon afterward, these insects were caught in oozing tree sap that fossilized into amber. The scientists in the film extracted dinosaur blood from the fossilized insects and used the DNA in the blood to recreate dinosaurs.

Could you find and insect in amber with a blood meal still in it?

Scientists really do study ancient insects fossilized in amber, but none have ever been found with blood inside them. Most of the amber found with insects trapped inside is not old enough to have been around when the dinosaurs lived between 65 and about 210 million years ago.

Would there be DNA left in the fossilized insect's last meal?

DNA is very fragile and deteriorates over time. Even if a blood-engorged insect was found, the blood would have to have been perfectly preserved over millions of years so the cells could be extracted in good condition. Finally, for the DNA to be viable, the insect must have died before it got a chance to digest the blood.

If DNA from blood were inside an insect, could it be removed?

If a good piece of amber were found containing an insect full of dinosaur blood, the blood cells would have to be separated from the insect's cells -- a difficult process. (Also, there is no guarantee that the insect's last meal was from a dinosaur). If this were accomplished, scientists could use a new technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to replicate the DNA enough times to work with it. Such technology, developed in the last decade, is now used in laboratories around the world.

Could a dinosaur be made from a piece of dinosaur DNA?

Even if it could be determined that the DNA recovered was from a dinosaur, there would still be problems. Since DNA deteriorates over time, very little of a creature's complete genetic materials, call the genome, would be likely to be left after more than 65 million years. The genome of such a complex creature as a dinosaur is made up of billions of pairs of building blocks called nucleic acids -- the primary form of which is deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). These acids are grouped into genes, which in turn are strung together into chromosomes. If you imagine the genome as a book, the chromosomes are chapters, genes are sentences and the nucleic acids are the alphabet. At present, the most that could be hoped for would be to find perhaps two or three hundred nucleic acid pairs, or less than one millionth of the genome -- not nearly enough to "read" the genome as one would a book.

If scientist were able to get the entire genetic code for a dinosaur, could the dinosaurs then be recreated?

Even if the entire genome of a dinosaur were somehow discovered, it would be found out of order, in tiny pieces. Literally, billions of nucleic acids would have to be combined correctly, like putting together an enormous jigsaw puzzle where each piece was shaped exactly alike. The genetic code is only one of many crucial factors that go into creating a living creature. Without interactions between the DNA and products supplied by the mother, a creature would not develop and you would merely have chemicals in a test tube.

Has any kind of fossil DNA ever been found?

New technology has made research on fossil DNA possible, but no dinosaur DNA has ever been found. At the American Museum of Natural History, researchers have extracted the sequenced DNA from a termite that lived 25 to 40 million years ago, long after the end of the age of dinosaurs. Other scientists have found fossil DNA from other insects and plants.