For the last 20 years, ever since Steven Spielberg brought dinosaurs back from extinction and on to the big screen, one question above all has been on the lips of movie fans: could Jurassic Park really happen?
Might scientists one day be able to use preserved dino DNA to resurrect deadly prehistoric creatures (and would that even be a good idea)?
Well the answer is… ‘Yes, probably, one day, but let’s start with something easy like pigeons first…’
“I think [it will be possible], the way it’s progressing,” says Dr Julian Pender Hume of the Natural History Museum. “To think of how genetics has progressed in the last ten years – and the knowledge is going up in orders of magnitude.”
But before you get too excited and start pestering your parents for your very own T-Rex, Dr Pender Hume is keen to point out that the technology isn’t quite there yet.
“I don’t think I’ll be alive to see one unfortunately – I hope I will, but I don’t think so at this moment in time… Maybe in 50 years when they’ve perfected techniques of getting complete DNA from old bones… [but] it’s a long way off.
“Unfortunately, Jurassic Park’s not quite there yet.”
What could happen very soon, though, is the next step on the path to Isla Nublar – extracting DNA from a recently extinct species and using its closest relatives to bring it back to life.
“One thing that may be possible in the very near future is [bringing back] birds or animals that are known from lots of museum skins,” says Dr Pender Hume.
“For example, this year is 100 years since the extinction of one of the most famous extinct American birds, the passenger pigeon. It’s known from over 1,500 skins and they know genetically what it’s closely related to and think they can actually get DNA from the passenger pigeon, put it with a closely related species and potentially reproduce it.
“It could be the very first time it’s done and they’re seriously saying that within maybe five years there may be a genetically recreated passenger pigeon flying around again.”
And birds, of course, are closely related to dinosaurs so we’re taking that as confirmation that it’s only a matter of time until half-term will mean a trip to the dino park.
Until then, there’s 2015 sequel Jurassic World to look forward to – and, of course, you can visit the Natural History Museum to see fossils of the real thing…
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