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DNA Extracted from Dinosaur Bones
UTAH SCIENTIST SAYS HE HAS EXTRACTED DNA FROM DINOSAUR BONES
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
After two years of painstaking analysis and hundreds of unsuccessful attempts, a
scientist at Brigham Young University has extracted the genetic material DNA
from what he thinks are bone fragments of 80-million-year-old dinosaurs.
The surprise was that the recovered DNA bore little or no resemblance to that of
any modern animals. It is "like nothing we've ever seen before," said Dr. Scott
R. Woodward, an associate professor of microbiology at the university in Provo,
Utah, who directed the study.
Other scientists, however, are skeptical of the research and want to see the
results tested further by independent laboratories.
In a report in Friday's issue of the journal Science, Woodward said he had
isolated DNA molecules from pieces of two ancient bones and produced nine
readable sequences from a strand of DNA for a particular gene. It is the first
report to be published in an authoritative journal of an apparent success in
isolating what is presumably dinosaur DNA.
The bone fragments, possibly from a limb bone and a rib of a large animal, were
found in a coal mine in eastern Utah. They were embedded in rock that is
associated with dinosaur fossils when found in other areas. But the fragments
were too small to be identified definitely as dinosaurian.
"On the basis of the circumstantial physical and geological evidence," Woodward
wrote, "it is likely that the bone fragments belong to a Cretaceous period
dinosaur or dinosaurs."
Despite this caution, Brigham Young issued a news release saying that Woodward
"has become the first researcher to extract DNA from dinosaur bone," and in a
telephone interview Wednesday, the scientist did not contradict the statement.
"I'm fairly confident that we are dealing with dinosaur bones," he said.
Even if the bones are indeed dinosaurian, some scientists questioned whether
delicate DNA molecules could exist in bone for 80 million years. They raised the
possibility that the DNA could be contamination from some organisms that had
entered the bones later.
"Granted they have something, but I have no idea what it really is," said Dr.
Mark A. Norell, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in
Manhattan. "I don't think they can show definitely that those are dinosaur
Woodward noted that scientists had recently found DNA in a weevil preserved in
120-million-year-old amber. Others have recovered 20-million-year-old DNA from
a fossilized magnolia leaf and from a bee in amber.
A research team led by John R. Horner, a paleontologist at the Museum of the
Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., has had some success trying to recover DNA from a
75-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex, but so far, the results have not been
replicated by others.
Paleontologists were perplexed by the finding that the supposedly dinosaur DNA,
when compared with modern DNA, did not appear to fit into any known animal
Woodward reported that the recovered DNA was at least 30 percent different from
the sequences of modern mammals, reptiles and birds, which many paleontologists
think are living descendants of dinosaurs.
In an accompanying article in Science, Dr. Svante Paabo, a molecular
evolutionist at the University of Munich in Germany, was quoted as saying, "The
jury is still out until others can reproduce his results."
Woodward said other laboratories would be given samples for independent testing.
But much of the material was destroyed in the tests already done, and a
collapsed tunnel has closed the coal mine, preventing the search for more bone
Even if the material turns out to be dinosaurian DNA, Woodward dispelled any
notion that with this small bit of DNA, scientists could somehow create living
dinosaurs, in the manner of the movie "Jurassic Park."
"I liked the movie and the book, but it's science fiction, pure fantasy, and
that's not going to happen," Woodward said in the interview.