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Some Random Thoughts on Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park presented us with the idea that we might get dinosaur
DNA from insects in amber. Other scientists have experimented, some
successfully, with obtaining DNA from fossils, some of which might be
original dinosaur DNA (though it might be modern fungus or bacteria
DNA). JP speculated that missing DNA might be supplemented with modern
DNA from creatures, like amphibians, presumed to be closer to dinosaurs
in general, and then used to clone real dinosaurs.
Scientists pooh-pooh the idea that this DNA could reconstruct a dino-
saur. The amounts that seem to be available are of very little use for
reconstruction - hundreds of pairs, rather than the millions needed for
a fragment to be at all meaningful. Useful for comparison, but not
useful for cloning a dinosaur. Even if we had lots more dinosaur DNA,
these experts rightly point out that just having the DNA is of little
use, we need to figure out how to insert it into an egg structure and
then "reboot" it to start the process of dinosaur creation, something
that is simply not in the available technological cards. DNA cloning
is easy, but to trigger the DNA to actually _function_ and produce a
real animal is not, for it is not mere replication.
But we are daily getting better at sequencing modern DNA, and we are
daily getting better at decoding what genes actually _do_. In partic-
ular, genes that map more-or-less directly are already yielding to our
efforts - especially bones.
Now, it seems to me that in, say, ten years, we would be able to "read"
a genetic code to determine what type of skeleton it encodes. From
this, it follows we will be able to encode a skeleton ourselves. Given
that most organs adapt themselves to the skeleton rather than the other
way around, we might perform quite some feet of bioengineering on, say,
an elephant, without rendering it non-viable. Once our skill extended to
organ shape and placement - again, staying away from esoterica like
behavioral genes - then we could mold the internals of an elephant,
perhaps even giving it organs from other species - like, say, a craw
from a bird, located in front of the stomach. The resulting creature
partakes of mostly elephantine traits, except where we have meddled.
The creature is always viable (except for real botches, of course, but
the _line_ stretches back to a "real" non-bioengineered elephant) but
each generation would incorporate new revisions of DNA, perhaps even
including actual dinosaur DNA, if enough can be reconstructed to be
useful. Could we not breed and engineer such a creature into something
that looks like, acts like, and breeds true as, say, an apatosaur?
True, it would not _be_ a apatosaur - it would be loaded with big-
mammal DNA, would have distinctly elephantine habits and behaviour,
but can we not presume these to be similar in outline if not in detail?
If the replica were to die and leave fossil traces that are indistin-
guishable from an apatosaurus as we know them today, would we not be
justified in _calling_ it an apatosaur?
Suppose we start not from elephant DNA but, say, wolf DNA. Could we
not use similar techniques to replicate a velocirapter such as
deinonychus, complete with pack-hunting behavior? Could not rhino DNA
form the basis of a triceratops? Albatross DNA, that of
I think these techniques _could_ result in viable reproductions in
our lifetimes. Expensive, yes, and probably unlikely just on that
account, but, at least, possible. They might not be _exactly_ what
the original dinosaurs were, but they'd be pretty close, I expect.
And it would not be all smoke and mirrors, either, if we found uses
for what few fragments of real dinosaur DNA we can recover.
Just a few random thoughts about the whole idea...