While the film franchise “Jurassic Park” suffers from scientific lapses, some scientists believe its core premise could become reality through available technology.
Could dinosaurs one day walk among humans?
Absolutely, says Jack Horner, a famed paleontologist and consultant on all five “Jurassic Park” movies, who argues all kinds of biological modification tools are at the disposal of scientists, reports Popular Mechanics.
“The possibility of creating a dinosaur exists right now,” he says.
Popular Mechanics notes Spielberg’s classic franchise, which released a fifth movie last week, also ushered in a “golden age of dinosaur discovery” when it debuted in 1993.
In the decade prior to the first movie, NBC News reported, paleontologists discovered about new 15 species of dinosaurs per year. But over the last decade, about one species a week is discovered.
Popular Mechanics reported that while cloning from dinosaur DNA may be a scientific dead-end, “the idea of bringing back dinosaurs is far from extinct.”
In 2009, Horner co-wrote a book, “How to Build a Dinosaur,” in which he proposed genetically modifying a chicken embryo so that it hatched with a head, teeth, claws and tail like an ancient velociraptor, which evolutionary scientists commonly believe is an ancestor.
He calls the hybrid a “dino-chicken.”
“The question in my mind [back then] is, could we back the whole process up?” Horner told Popular Mechanics. “Could we start with a bird and retro engineer a dinosaur out of it? Yeah, I thought it could be done.”
Popular Mechanics said such out-of-the-box thinking would inspire some truly revolutionary research.
In 2015, researchers “showed that it was potentially possible to reverse-engineer evolution by using what we’ve learned over the last two decades and taking advantage of newly developed technologies.”
Horner insists creating a dino-chicken isn’t complicated: “It’s basically opening up one egg at a time and going in and retrieving RNA. And, then, opening up another egg and using a gene switch … and inserting back into each cell something that either turns on a particular gene or turns it off.”
The process of “turning off” a gene theoretically would cause certain parts of the anatomy to revert to its prehistoric state, Popular Mechanics said.
The magazine noted, however, some paleontologists and evolutionary biologists are not as enthusiastic about hatching a dino-chicken.
Mark Norell, chairman and Macaulay Curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Paleontology, is concerned that switching one or two genes will have an unknown effect on other cells in the organism.
The “engineering,” he concludes, will not make a dinosaur.
There also are ethical issues, warns biologist Mary Schweitzer, a former student of Horner’s.
“You got one chicken with a velociraptor head and tail. We’ve proven we can do it, so we are real cool, but it’s cruel,” says Schweitzer. “Bringing an organism back … just to prove you can, it’s a waste.”