Ever since the Jurassic Park movies, the world has been entralled with the possibility of recreating dinosaurs. Unlike the movies however, studies in the early 1990s that successfully extracted DNA from insects trapped in 40 million-year old fossilised amber, as well as genetic fragments from a 40,000 year old mammoth, could not be consistently replicated.
Then in 2003, the team working with famed Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner – the advisor to the Jurassic Park movies – made an amazing discovery. Contrary to common wisdom, soft flesh tissue from a T-Rex, complete with blood vessels, was accidentally recovered from a 68 million year old bone fragment!
Work is now underway to sequence the T-Rex DNA, as detailed in Horner’s latest book ‘How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn’t Have to Be Forever’. They found that in fact ancient DNA relics matched the DNA still locked away in the inventory of genes of their descendant: the humble, modern-day chicken. This is helping to rethink an approach to potentially recreate dinosaurs by retro-enginnering triggers in the chicken DNA that were no longer active. Today, scientists have already been able to ‘switch on’ the dormant triggers that successfully allow teeth, tails, and scales to grow in chickens. Scientists estimate that barring ethical barriers, it is highly likely that we be the first generation in 65 million years that will once again get to see real-life dinosaurs. Now that’s something to look forward to!