Ever since the release of Jurassic Park in 1993, excited children and adults alike have been asking the same question: Can we actually resurrect the dinosaurs?
For the most part, the answer to that question is a reluctant 'No.' Although Jurassic Park, and its recent sequel Jurassic World, both reference and contain the scientific basics of such a process, the practicalities of bringing extinct dinosaurs back to life is much different.
Recently, palaeontologist and advisor to all four Jurassic Park films, Jack Horner, spoke at a special event held at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. As well as fielding questions about the appearance of the dinos in the films, he was also asked about the feasibility of actually creating a realistic Jurassic Park. He claimed:
Everyone is trying to bring back all sorts of animals. No one has ever gotten a fragment of DNA from a dinosaur. Because once 10,000 years passes, the DNA degradates. But we can find pieces of proteins. Birds are living dinosaurs. They carry some part of ancestral DNA of dinosaurs. So we could maybe turn on the old DNA markers in a bird. Take a bird that doesn’t have a tail and suddenly give it a tail.
Eventually, Horner did claim such a thing might be possible, but the result wouldn't be a full dinosaur. Instead it would be hybrid much like the Indominus Rex seen in Jurassic World. He continued:
Well, we could make a dino hybrid animal. So yes. But a full on velociraptor would be very difficult. Once we have the tech, we could transform any bird to a dinosaur. Even chickens and make a chickenosaurus.
Indeed, some progress has been made in resurrecting extinct animals in the past, although there still seems to be a long way to go. In 2003, a Spanish/French team managed to bring the Iberian Ibex back from extinction, although the resulting infant Ibex only survived for 10 minutes. Since then, other animals such as the tasmanian tiger, passenger pigeon, sabre-toothed tiger, wooly mammoth and the unique gastric brooding frog have also been suggested as possible candidates for resurrection.
However, all of these animals lived within the last 10,000 years, meaning the possibility of finding workable-quality genetic material is much higher. Dinosaurs is a different story entirely. Sorry.
But There's Another Problem
But, as pointed out by palaeontologist Anthony J Martin, resurrecting dinosaurs is just the start of your problems. The world was a much different place 65 million years ago, so different in fact, it would be hard for dinosaurs to survive in our current ecosystems.
Firstly, the food dinosaurs would eat has likely also gone extinct, or at the very least evolved to defend itself against primitive herbivores. This issue was actually shown in the original Jurassic Park when a Triceratops is shown to have fallen ill from eating toxic plant life.
Modern plants have often evolved toxins which would impair any animal which had not adapted to deal with them. This means it is unlikely that Jurassic dinos could munch on many of our plants, including common grass. Martin points out this problem could be solved by trying to find the plants which are most closely related to fossil-plants on record, however even this isn't a foolproof solution.
Furthermore, the same might also be true for carnivorous dinosaurs, who may have had rather sensitive stomachs. There's no guarantee a genetically engineered T-Rex could eat a modern mammal, or whether it could stomach an equally genetically modified Triceratops.
Martin also points out a real Jurassic Park would have to introduce many other smaller critters to replicate the dinosaurs environment such as dung beetles, bees, butterflies, and smaller ground dwelling mammals. As Martin explains:
Thus Masrani Global – the imaginary corporation tasked with creating Jurassic World – should have added entomologists (insect scientists), ornithologists and mammalogists to the career opportunities page on its mock website.
The Benefit of Reintroducing Extinct Animals
Although the four Jurassic Park movies have proven resurrecting dinosaurs would only end in a bloodbath, reintroducing locally extinct animals can majorly benefit an ecosystem.
The biggest success story of all regards the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. The wolves controlled the growing elk numbers, before allowing riverine foliage to regrow, which in turn prevents erosion and expands the floodplains.
The success of the program has led to similar ones in Europe - where large predators have all but been removed - while there is also talk of a more ambitious 'rewilding' program in North America. Some proponents of the concept have even suggested introducing elephants, lions, cheetahs and other animals to mimic those which went extinct from America in the last 10,000 years.
In any case, Martin concludes a park full of resurrected extinct animals might be possible, but unfortunately there would probably be no dinosaurs. He states:
Given the much shorter elapsed time since their extinction, enough similar species today and no need for genetic engineering, a “Pleistocene Park” – Pleistocene being the geological epoch that was about 2.5 million to 11,700 years ago – would be far easier to achieve than a Jurassic World (while also being more alliterative).
Still, that sounds good enough to me.