Disappointing news for anyone with designs on one day owning a pet velociraptor: scientists say that the cloning techniques used in Steven Spielberg’s dino-tastic 1993 film Jurassic Park simply wouldn’t work.
In the film, Richard Attenborough and his team of scientists extracted 80-million-year-old dinosaur DNA from mosquitoes trapped in amber and used the genetic data to bring all manner of long-extinct scaly creatures back to life. But, alas, a new Australian study suggests that even the most pristinely preserved DNA wouldn’t survive much longer a mere million years.
The oldest samples of DNA yet recovered, from plants and insects found deep within ice cores in Greenland, are around 800,000 years old, but until now the rate of decay for DNA has been a mystery.
However researchers from Murdoch University’s Ancient DNA lab in Perth think they’ve hit upon a means of working out how quickly DNA actually decomposes. They compared the DNA remnants contained in a huge sample of 600- to 8,000-year-old bones taken from three species of moa birds, extinct flightless creatures that were once native to New Zealand, in order to arrive at an estimate of the rate at which DNA’s decomposes.
Mike Bunce, from the Ancient DNA lab explained: “The moa bones have allowed us to study the comparative DNA degradation because they come from different ages from a region where they have all experienced the same environmental conditions.”
Based on the range of moa samples used in the study, the researchers estimate that DNA has a half-life of around 521 years, which means that half of the bonds in DNA would decay after 521 years, then half as many again would take a further 521 years and so on.
“If the decay rate is accurate,” says Bunce, “then we predict that DNA fragments of sufficient length will preserve in frozen fossil bone of around one million years in age.”
Which means that any dino DNA that once existed on Earth will be long, long gone by now and unable to help us clone any cretaceous creatures in the future.
Bah. As Homer Simpson once put it, does anything from the movies actually work?!