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Can Dinosaurs Be Cloned?

The simple answer is no. Well, not yet, anyway, and highly unlikely. Let’s start by talking about where Jurassic Park got it right.

Amber does exist. Amber is tree resin that has been fossilized and preserved due to high pressure and temperature, covered by many layers of sediment over thousands of years. Eventually, it can harden to make a gemstone that is actually quite expensive, and people do turn it into jewelry! It is possible for things to get trapped in the amber; scientists have indeed found mosquitoes and biting flies preserved in amber from the time of the dinosaurs, but unfortunately, the amber only preserves the outside, the “husk”, not the soft tissue. Any tasty snack they had before getting trapped doesn’t get preserved.

Lebanese amber specimen from the Early Cretaceous Period

There is fun news though! Scientists have found blood residue inside ancient bugs! They just weren’t found in amber, they were found in bones! Dr. Susie Maidment and a team of researchers from the Natural History Museum in the UK have discovered what they interpret to be red blood cells inside a dinosaur bone from the cretaceous period, and in 2020, scientists from the US and China found cartilage that possibly contains Dino DNA. Unfortunately though, just because you find dinosaur blood cells, doesn’t mean you have found dinosaur DNA. DNA is super vulnerable. It breaks down rapidly and has to be handled in very strict conditions.

Here’s where Jurassic Park went a bit wrong. In order to clone something, you need an intact, living cell, and a living host of the same species. Science dinosaurs are extinct, it would be pretty hard to use one as a host. In Jurassic Park, they took fragmented DNA, figured out where the holes were and filled the DNA sequence with frog DNA, then used a lab to grow the dinosaur. The big problem with this is, that if you don’t have the full sequence already, you don’t know where the holes are! Even if you did, it wouldn’t help filling it with frog DNA; you would need to use birds. Or crocodiles maybe, but definitely not frogs.

Compsognathus: SMNS, R. Haring. & M. Aurich

Scientists are giving it a go though. There are a few labs that are trying to reverse engineer extinct animals. Scientists see this as a possible way to bring back species that have gone extinct during the time that humans have inhabited our planet. For dinosaurs, you could in theory take a chicken and try to give it a long tail or teeth! Really though, would it be a dinosaur, if it was reverse engineered, and not grown from actual DNA?

Scientists have successfully cloned certain animals already, but that’s because they already had the DNA of the animal, and they are working on reverse engineering extinct species that we already know could survive living now with care and protection. Without finding perfectly preserved, complete dinosaur DNA, the chances of cloning a real dinosaur is basically impossible. Even if it was possible, we’ve seen how that movie ends! Like Dr. Malcolm says, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.”

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