June 8, 2024 at 3:31 pm

Does Anyone Think It’s Actually Possible To Bring Back Dinosaurs?

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Universal Pictures

I can’t imagine that anyone who grew up reading/watching the Jurassic Park movies would think it’s a good idea to bring back dinosaurs.

That said, scientists are known for their hubris as much as their brilliance, so you never can tell.

But is it possible? And if so, is anyone willing to try?

Researcher Dr. Susie Maidement of London’s Natural History Museum and Ben Lamm, CEO of Colossal Biosciences, answered some questions on IFLScience’s “The Big Questions” podcast on just this topic.

According to Dr. Maidement, many obstacles to bringing back a dinosaur still remain.

Source: Universal Pictures

The biggest one is that despite the method used in the Jurassic Park movies, we still don’t have even a little bit of DNA from dinosaurs.

“The oldest DNA in the fossil record is probably only around a million years old, maybe a bit more. The dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago, so definitely we don’t have any DNA for dinosaurs at this point. We do, however, not have some blood, so we have some red blood cells that are preserved from dinosaurs and some other soft tissue features. So maybe in the future we might be able to get some DNA.”

That said, they do have some ideas.

“There are a couple of other different techniques that are going on though. One of those is reverse engineering, which is this idea that you could take birds, which are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs, fiddle around with their genetics, and produce something like a dinosaur.”

Co-founder and CEO of Colossal Biosciences Ben Lamm says his company is working towards the “de-extinction” of several extinct species – but is one of them dinosaurs?

“What that means to us is looking at and understanding which genes are associated with the core phenotypes, or physical attributes, that existed in an extinct animal.”

The woolly mammoth is their first project.

“For the woolly mammoth, it’s the dome cranium, the curved tusk, and whatever is making it cold-tolerant, as well as a lot of things under the hood. Things like how nerve endings respond to freezing temperatures, how the body produces hemoglobin, and the shaggy wool coat.”

Source: Shutterstock

They’re going to take the Asian Elephant, which is 99.6% genetically identical to the mammoth, and try to “de-extinct” the genes that made them tolerant to cold.

“Then you have the mammoth 2.0.”

They’re not working on dinosaurs now, though.

“We’re working on the woolly mammoth, the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), and the dodo.”

Lamm says there is a bare minimum they need in order to even try.

“First you need to look at, what is the closest phylogenetic relative? What is the animal that is still existing on the planet that’s the closest on the family tree? You need to find the closest phylogenetic relative because you’ve got to find and build a reference genome, and you need tissue samples to do that.”

That’s only the beginning, though.

“You’ve got to get tissue samples containing the ancient DNA of those extinct species. Ancient DNA is different from existing living DNA, because it’s massively fragmented. It’s not all exogenous, meaning that there are other microbes and living things that have contaminated it over time. So you get snippets of ancient DNA and then you basically piece them together.”

You also need a surrogate that would be able to gestate the revived embryo, as well.

And he says that dinosaurs would be extra tough due to the fact that they have been extinct for so long, and the conditions of their world (wet and hot/humid) don’t lend themselves to pristine preservation.

Still, Lamm was willing to muse on what would happen if dinosaurs were able to be brought “back to life.”

“There are all sorts of problems here. First of all, the dinosaurs lived for 170 million years on Earth. That’s a really long time. T. rex is actually closer to us in time than it was to Stegosaurus. Many dinosaurs were already fossils by the time other ones lived, so you’re bringing all these different animals together and putting them alongside each other, already that’s weird.”

Source: Universal Pictures

Their diet would also be a huge issue to solve.

“Grass hadn’t evolved when the dinosaurs were around, so the herbivores weren’t eating grass, and grass is quite difficult to eat. It has lots of bits of almost glass-like material in it, which causes your teeth to wear down really, really fast. Horses have evolved these very high crown teeth which wear down over time, but dinosaurs didn’t have that. They replaced their teeth continuously throughout their lives.”

Ethical concerns would also abound.

“What rights would they have today? Would they be treated like living animals? Or because we’ve invented them and reconstructed them, would they have a different status? There are a bunch of ethical concerns around it as well.”

Even if his company or another wanted to try, Lamm says it’s currently off the table.

“So, it’s not currently scientifically possible to bring back a dinosaur. I do think that the tools over the next 20 years could get us to the point where you could engineer species with dinosaur-like traits. However, unlike our work with the mammoth, we can’t really look at the genome and identify those core genes and de-extinct them, so I don’t think it’s possible to bring back a dinosaur or de-extinct one.”

The bottom line is that experts seem to agree that it’s not possible, and right now, it seems unlikely that it will be.

And even if it were, it would. be a really bad idea.

At least we can agree on that.

Thought that was fascinating? Here’s another story you might like: Why You’ll Never See A Great White Shark In An Aquarium