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Dinosaur DNA

Everyone read this:

Sunday, February 4, 2001

Amman, Jordan -- A Jordanian geologist who gathers
amber samples in this
desert kingdom is hoping the insects trapped inside
dined on a last meal of
dinosaur blood 140 million years ago.

Abbas Haddadin has 100 types of insects preserved in
more than 10,000
pieces of Jordanian amber dating back to the early
Cretaceous Period, when
dinosaurs existed. Blood in the stomachs of some of
the insects could help
unravel the genetic characteristics of dinosaurs, he

" `Jurassic Park' is at our doorsteps," says Haddadin,
who plans to begin
testing his samples in the spring.

In director Steven Spielberg's hit movie, based on
Michael Crichton's
fantasy novel, dinosaurs are created from DNA found in
blood sucked by a
mosquito preserved in honey-colored amber. They then
run rampant at a
safari park on an island.

"It may come true after all," Haddadin says.

Not likely, say two American scientists, one of whom
examined photographs
of some of Haddadin's insects-in-amber collection.

But not impossible, either.

George Poinar, a paleobiologist at Oregon State
University, identified two
insects -- a wasp and a biting midge, which is similar
to a gnat -- in the
photographs he viewed.

"The wasp probably had no contact with dinosaurs.
However, the biting midge
probably required a blood meal from a vertebrate and,
theoretically, could
have bitten a dinosaur," Poinar said.

"If this occurred -- and the midge was caught in resin
just afterwards --
then some of the blood could still be in the insect's
Theoretically, there could be some dinosaur DNA
remaining in that blood."

Poinar said there have been attempts to extract
dinosaur blood from
preserved insects elsewhere, but none as old as those
found in Lebanese,
Jordanian and Israeli amber. Scientists believe amber
in this region is
among the oldest in the world, dating back 140 million

"Our team did extract DNA from a beetle in Lebanese
amber," but it turned
out to be only that of the beetle, Poinar said.

A skeptical note

Jeffery Bada, a geochemist at the University of
California, San Diego,
dismissed the possibility of finding dinosaur DNA in
Haddadin's insects.

"There may be some remnants of the insect's own blood,
but to say it may
have sucked on dinosaur is really stretching it," he

Old amber deposits often are damaged by molecular
degradation and
radiation, which makes the likelihood of finding
dinosaur DNA even more
remote, he said.

Haddadin's insect samples were found near the King
Talal Dam, a fertile
area 17 miles north of Jordan's capital, Amman, one of
several sites he has
frequented in his amber research since 1973.

In "Jurassic Park," the amber used to re-create
dinosaurs is found in the
Dominican Republic; in reality, amber there dates back
just 25 million
years. In the United States, 90 million-year-old amber
is found in New
Jersey, and fossil resin has been dated back 40
million years in Baltic Sea

Dinosaurs are known to have existed as early as the
Triassic Period, 230
million years ago. They became extinct 65 million
years ago. Human
civilization began 10,000 years ago.

Haddadin's amber collection also contains worms, weeds
and air bubbles. In
1979, Haddadin and German scientist Klaus Bandel
documented amber
production back to the now-extinct Agathis tree.

Haddadin says he has focused on the amber containing
wasps and midges
because of their "great importance as stinging insects
which might have
stung a dinosaur and kept its DNA in their stomachs."

Succinic acid found in amber kills bacteria and other
providing a better chance the insects remained intact,
he says.

He wants to examine his amber at a laboratory in the
West because Jordan
lacks the necessary sophisticated equipment.

"It's true we may find nothing that could contribute
to international
research on dinosaurs, but what about if we did get
something from this
amber?" Haddadin asks. "I think the cause is worth a

Royal Scientific Society: www.rss.gov.jo

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