You read the headline correctly: using modern-day birds and turtles, along with a bit of math, scientists at Kent University recreated the DNA structure of dinosaurs that lived millions and millions of years ago.
In a study published in Nature, the team of scientists explained how they used the closest modern-day relatives of dinosaurs, which happens to be birds and turtles, to reverse engineer what they believe the dinosaur DNA structure would have looked like.
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#NeverForget the tragic loss of dinosaurs just 65 million years go with our shirt. It seems like it was just yesterday.
Does this mean that we’ll have an actual Jurassic Park in our lifetime?
Probably not, but like Dr. Malcolm said…
What it comes down to is the fact that DNA doesn’t hold up very well over time. It degrades over time, and despite what the makers of Jurassic Park would have you believe, not only would there be an insufficient amount of DNA inside a mosquito encased in amber, but the DNA just wouldn’t be good enough to make a full animal out of. Birds have somewhere around 40 pairs of chromosomes, depending on the species. For reference, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes.
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While it’s a popular notion that dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago, the truth of the matter is dinosaurs are still alive today. Birds are dinosaurs, meaning that many of us eat a dinosaurs a few times a week.
When we think of birds, many of us likely think of pigeons or robins. But the large amount of chromosomes in birds may help explain why we have so many different varieties – from your standard chicken to hummingbirds to ostriches and even the Dodo (RIP, fam).
What a majestic creature.
The team explained how they went about piecing back together the DNA:
This genome organisation therefore predates the emergence of early dinosaurs and pterosaurs and the evolution of flight. Remaining largely unchanged interchromosomally through the dinosaur–theropod route that led to modern birds, intrachromosomal changes nonetheless reveal evolutionary breakpoint regions enriched for genes with ontology terms related to chromatin organisation and transcription. This genomic structure therefore appears highly stable yet contributes to a large degree of phenotypic diversity, as well as underpinning adaptive responses to major environmental disruptions via intrachromosomal repatterning.
Given our data, it is perhaps not an unreasonable speculation that, if we had the opportunity to make metaphase chromosomes from tissue of non-avian theropods, both karyotypic and molecular cytogenetic analysis (genome size aside) would reveal little difference from a modern chicken, duck or ostrich (or at least a spiny soft-shelled turtle), i.e. 2n = 66–80 in the majority of species.Nature
Basically what they’re saying is that the genes themselves don’t change very often, but the amount of chromosomes they have gave them the opportunity to have a lot of variety in size.
The implications from this are amazing, because it would give scientists additional insight into the lives of dinosaurs millions of years ago and help increase our understanding of how they evolved to be as enormous as many of them were.
But what might be more important to most people is the idea of being able to re-create a T-rex. The lead scientist in the study, Darren Griffin, squashed this notion though in comments he made to the BBC:
“We are not gong to have Jurassic Park anytime soon,” according to Prof Griffin.
“If you take the DNA of a chicken and put it into an ostrich egg you won’t end up with a chicken or an ostrich. You will end up with nothing. The same would be true of a velociraptor or a T. rex. It just wouldn’t work”.BBC
Well, damn it.
I’ll be sure to remind my paleontologist friends to keep their eyes on the prize: a real-life Jurassic Park.