Since the movie Jurassic Park hit theaters, many people (including me) have held onto the belief that it might, one day, be possible to clone real, living dinosaurs. The way it happened in the film, with dinosaur DNA being extracted from a mosquito that was frozen in amber, seemed plausible enough. Scientists have discovered real insects from the prehistoric era, so it would be only a matter of time before we had real dinosaurs to look at, right?
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whether the cloned dinosaurs would have escaped and terrorized the planet–which you know they totally would have), scientists have now revealed that it isn’t possible to recover genetic material from dinosaurs and clone them.
Until recently, it wasn’t known how long genetic material can endure before it completely breaks down. It turns out that it’s not long enough.
A group of palaeogeneticists working out of the University of Copenhagen and Murdoch University in Perth, Australia have determined that the half-life of DNA is 521 years. This means that, even if DNA were to be stored at the idea preservation temperature of -5 C, it would be totally destroyed after 6.8 million years.
Most dinosaur bones are 60 million years and older, so there’s no chance to extract any useful DNA. We’ll never get to see a real, live T-rex. Huge bummer.
This discovery does leave some hope for the possibility of cloning other awesome animals from the more recent past, however. The woolly mammoth lived only 10,000 years ago, so the possibility of extracting relatively-undamaged mammoth DNA from a specimen is actually pretty promising. The same can be said for sabre-toothed tigers, provided the remains we find are from the end of that species’ time on this planet.