This weekend marks the moment millions of film and dinosaur fans have been waiting for: the official release of Colin Trevorrow's dino epic, Jurassic World. 22 years after the original park opened (and ferociously failed), Jurassic World acts as living proof of the successes genetic engineering and cloning have accomplished. However, due to corporate and financial pressures to rejuvenate the dwindling park crowds, the park's scientists utilized the magic of genetic engineering to singlehandedly manufacture the park's most menacing attraction yet, the Indominus Rex!
Sounds awesome, right? Wouldn't you want to visit Jurassic World? Sadly, it seems like scientists have officially confirmed the worst: we will never be able to bring extinct dinosaurs back to life. In the original film, scientists utilized ancient DNA extracted from mosquitoes preserved in amber fossils, but the reality is that DNA degrades far too quickly to be recovered from fossils let alone be used for cloning.
There is some good news, though! Several scientists have already made the interesting claim that the science in Jurassic World is much more plausible than that found in the original trilogy. Yes, the park still maintains the premise of genetic cloning and continues to feature well-known dinos such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Pterodactyl, but it's the Indominus Rex's grand debut that has real-life scientists talking.
The Indominus Rex. which boasts genes from a Gigantosaurus, Rugops, Majungasaurus, Carnotaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Velociraptor, and even a cuttlefish, is what scientists refer to as a genetic hybrid. Hybrids, which are defined as a mix of two distinct animal or plant species, can be created in a lab through genetic manipulation or occur naturally in the wild.
According to paleontologist Dr. Jack Horner - who served as the technical scientific advisor for the entire Jurassic Park franchise and is even currently attempting to create a small dinosaur by genetically reverse-engineering a chicken - the recent installment features much more realistic science than its predecessors.
We don’t have dinosaur DNA but we can make transgenic animals. The cool thing about making a hybrid is that we can take a whole bunch of genes from other animals and mix them together to make a new animal, which is actually more plausible than bringing them back. [In the films], we do our best to make the dinosaurs as accurate as possible considering all the factors that are involved in bringing a dinosaur back. I've had discussions with Steven Spielberg about certain aspects of the dinosaurs, and we can get things changed.
While this mix-and-match game may seem like something straight out of science fiction, science has been genetically manipulating animals for years. Goats mixed with spiders and pigs mixed with mice are but a few of the many genetic combinations possible. Keep in mind, however, that these are not just experiments meant to satisfy the mad scientists. Genetic manipulation and gene therapy are considered by many to be the future of medicine; malfunctioning genes can be replaced, immune systems can be improved, disease causing genes can be shut off.
But, of course, as Uncle Ben would have said, "with great power, comes great responsibility." But enough science talk, let's check out some real life Indominus Rexes!
Reality's Indominus Rexes:
1. Ligers and Tigons
No, Napoleon Dynamite wasn't (totally) crazy! Tigons and ligers are crosses between lions and tigers. Specifically, tigons are the offspring of a lioness and a male tiger, while ligers are the cubs of a male lion and a female tiger. Though beautiful, these animals can weigh up to 700 pounds, making them the largest big cats in the animal kingdom. Other big cat crosses with leopards and jaguars are also possible.
2. Grolar Bears
A mix between the polar bear and grizzly bear, the grolar bear is definitely not your typical cuddly animal. The bear features a distinct combination of polar and grizzly characteristics, as seen by the brown and white fur. Although rare, grolar bear sightings have been reported in the wild.
3. Savannah Cat
This cuddly little creature is known as the Savannah cat, a cross between the serval wild cat breeds and a domestic house cat. The cat originated in the 1990s, when its hybridization become popular among breeders. It wasn't until 2001, however, that The International Cat Association accepted the Savannah cat as a new breed.
This one is definitely a fun one! The cama hybrid, a mix of a male camel and female llama, is an example of human-driven hybridization. The two species live on two separate continents, the camel being from Asia and Africa while the llama is South American, indicating that natural mating would be geographically impossible. However, in an attempt to create an animal with the strength of a camel but the calmer temperament of a llama, the cama was born! Ironically and hilariously, the cama is well known for its bad behavior.
This little guy is an obvious cross between a zebra and a donkey. However, zebroids can be any mix between a zebra and any other equine animal, including a horse. While the creatures themselves are generally physically strong and healthy and lead long lives, the difference in chromosome numbers amongst different equine species cause these hybrids to generally be sterile.