Follow these seven simple steps and learn how (not) to make a dinosaur.
1. Find some intact dinosaur DNA.
Dinosaur blood sucked up by a mosquito that was then immediately preserved in amber should do it. Such specimens would be rare, but let’s just say you find one.
Though amber is a great preserver, it doesn’t stop DNA degrading over time. A study published last year in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B measured the half-life of DNA in 158 radiocarbon-dated bones and found the average was 521 years.
Which means that every bond in dinosaur DNA would be broken after just 6.8 million years. Given that the last (non-avian) dinosaur died about 65 million years ago, that’s bad news for anyone hoping to find any intact T. rex DNA at all.
Another study showed that DNA is unlikely to be preserved in copal (a type of tree resin), meaning it’s probably even more unlikely to be preserved in amber, which is millions of years older.
3. Sequence the dinosaur’s genome from the DNA.
Before you can think about cloning an organism, you need its complete set of genes, or genome. You’re extremely unlikely to get that from whatever DNA you’ve extracted from the mosquito, so you’re going to have to improvise.
If we were to clone a mammoth or neanderthal, we could use an elephant or human’s genome to work out where each scrap of DNA goes and start reconstructing the whole genome.
In the film of Jurassic Park, scientists fill in the gaps with frog DNA (the book mentions using the DNA of other animals, too).
But actually the best candidate for filling in dinosaur DNA would be birds, says Brian Switek at Mental Floss. They are the only living things left over from the time dinosaurs roamed Earth. Even so, their use in helping us figure our dinosaur genomes would be “quite limited”.
From this patchwork genome you then need to construct some chromosomes. Sadly, we don’t know how to do for dinosaurs.
4. Implant the chromosomes into a dinosaur egg.
But wait, of course you don’t have a living dinosaur egg because there are no dinosaurs any more.
In the film, the chromosomes are implanted into ostrich eggs. The book specifies that the eggshells are artificial, but the actual ovum (egg cell) used was ostrich too.
Sadly, this just wouldn’t work. Vertebrates, like us and dinosaurs and all other animals with a backbone, need at the very least an egg and cytoplasm of a closely related species. Birds may be dinosaurs, but given they’re separated in time from whatever dinosaur you’re cloning by at least 65 million years, they’re not closely related enough.
Of course, there’s an even bigger problem: You have no way of knowing what species of dinosaur you have.
5. Incubate the egg and wait for it to hatch.
How long that will take and what conditions it will need to survive are anyone’s guess, because you still don’t know what species of dinosaur you have.
6. Let the dinosaurs roam free and wreak havoc on the world.
The world is a very different place now than it was 65 million years ago, so there’s little chance any dinosaur we might be able to resurrect would actually survive.
But, assuming you actually have a dinosaur that reaches maturity, what could go wrong? (Lots could go wrong, obviously.)
All the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are created female to stop them breeding. But the frog DNA that filled in the gaps in their genome caused a bit of a problem – turns out they can change sex. And then breed. Oops.
This idea does have a precedent in the real world. Female reed frogs have been known to change sex when there are not enough males around. In one study, seven out of 24 captive female frogs changed into “fully functional” males without any hormone treatment. That’s not the only case of sex-changing amphibians, either.
7. Go to your room and think about what you’ve done.
This is not going to end well for anyone.