How come we’ve never cloned dinosaurs?


Did we learn our mistake from the jurassic park series?

In: Biology

DNA breaks down really fast. It’ll depend a lot on the environment, but roughly half the DNA breaks down after around 500 years. You can imagine then, that after millions (or hundreds of millions) of years, there’d be no useful DNA left to clone.

It’s super hard, and super dangerous. Super hard and super dangerous things are only undertaken with there is earth-shattering benefits to be had. Apparently, nobody can think of a benefit from cloning dinos. Plus the Jurassic Park movies killed the whole “theme park” angle.

So, Jurassic Park is based on the idea that we could get Dino DNA from mosquitos trapped in amber, and use that to make clones. In reality, even if a mosquito bit a dinosaur and then got immediately trapped in amber, the DNA would still degrade and not be usable millions of years later. It’s not possible with our technology to be able to do that.

Even ignoring the ethical and safety questions around a dinosaur-based theme park, the ability to clone dinosaurs just doesn’t exist and likely won’t, as far as we can tell. DNA breaks down over time, and even if it were preserved in amber (like in Jurassic Park), the soft tissues and DNA present in the sample will have degraded millions of years ago, leaving only a husk preserved in the amber. Under normal conditions, DNA completely breaks down over a few thousand years, let alone a scale of tens of millions. That’s not to say that we *couldn’t* find some unbelievably well-preserved dinosaur DNA in the future, but it seems very unlikely that it’s possible.

We’ve found some examples of extinct DNA in really specific conditions – like buried in permafrost, maintained at very low temperatures without ever warming up – but even then, the oldest I believe we’ve found is around a million years old. We’d need to find something 65x as old and perfectly preserved in order to even think about the possibility of dinosaur cloning.

We don’t have dinosaur DNA. You also still need a surrogate mother of the same or a very closely related species to make a clone in real life; there’s no living animal today that could work for that.

DNA, the instructions for how to make a living thing, are needed to clone an animal.
We only have fossils of dinosaurs, which don’t contain any DNA. The idea of getting that DNA from an insect in amber is pretty unrealistic, it doesn’t last very well even sealed away in amber.
Also, if you clone something you need another animal to carry that embryo. We cloned a sheep because we had another sheep to put it in.
We can’t yet clone Wooly Mammoth, despite possibly getting an Elephant to birth it. The DNA just isn’t viable despite being frozen and despite only being tens of thousands rather than tens of millions of years old.

In addition to the lack of dinosaur DNA that others have already pointed out, it also turns out that cloning extinct species to being them back to life is a lot harder than anticipated.

One of the closest we have ever come was with the Pyrenean ibex, a type of wild goat found in the mountains along the border between France and spain, which became extinct in 2000. Scientist had already started to collect DNA before that point. So that started out as well as it could have.

We also have plenty of closely related animals still around. Scientist could simply have a common goat act as a mother for the animal that was to be the rebirth of its kind.

Despite all that the animal died from birth defects shortly after its birth, the Pyrenean ibex had been revived for only a few short minutes before it became extinct again.

That was what happened under the best possible circumstances.

For dinosaurs things would be much harder.

The passenger pigeon that once flocked across the skies of North America in large numbers would be a candidate for de-extinction.

It is technically an extinct dinosaur by the way scientist use that term and there are plenty of well preserved speciems around in museums and private collections. The animal became extinct about one and a quarter centuries ago in the 1890s. We have plenty of closely related species around to help out with eggs and with missing pieces. (It also should be much less likely to eat people should the experiment get out of hand.)

The way things are now we ill never recreate the passenger pigeon though.

Not only is DNA far more fragile than the Jurassic Park movies might lead you to believe. It is also not the complete blueprint that you need to make an animal that we thought for a long time.

Between mitochondrial DNA and epigentics, there there is a lot more that goes into making a creature than just the genetic code in its chromosomes.

For big and intelligent creatures like the dinos from the park you also have to assume that a lot of what made them what they are is not just instincts but also learned behavior that they pick up from their families.

This is a lot more tricky than popular wisdom in the later 20th century had people believe.

We might to have make do with dinosaur animatronics and robots and as “West World” by the same author as “Jurassic Park” has taught us there is nothing that could go wrong with that.

Any remaining Dinosaur DNA has long since decomposed by radioactive decay. I think the closest we have got to cloning dinosaurs is triggering unused genes in chicken embryos so that they grow teeth, like their dinosaur ancestors. But it’s not like there’s an entire dinosaur’s genome inside a chicken.

Since we can’t clone dinosaurs for the reasons everyone has listed here, what we CAN do is reverse engineer them through gene editing. It’s exploratory science that we’ve not quite nailed down yet, but we’ve done some experiments to ‘de-evolve’ animals- specifically chickens to get them to somewhat resemble their dinosaur parentage. 2 legged dinosaurs were basically chicken with teeth. We’re working on it.