The Earth has preserved dinosaur bones for millions of years, but DNA breaks down much faster. Fortunately, scientists have worked out a way to predict what dinosaur DNA may have looked like.
Using DNA from modern-day turtles and birds — long-lost relatives of our ancient ‘terrible lizard’ friends — researchers at the University of Kent, in the UK, were able to piece together a history of DNA that dates back some 255 million years.
We know there were dinosaurs with spiky tails, dinosaurs with extremely long necks and dinosaurs that crushed the bones of prey in their teeth. We don’t see these traits in birds often (though that would be cool), so one might expect that the way their DNA is arranged would be wildly different.
Not the case.
Despite the variation, the research team at Kent believe that dinosaur DNA has been highly stable throughout history. Their results, published in Nature Communications in May, suggests that the birds you see today have very similar DNA to their ancient relatives, the dinosaurs.
The team also speculate that the way in which DNA was organised may have ‘provided a blueprint for evolutionary success’ because it is able to generate variation and thus facilitate natural selection — which keeps animals alive. It may also be why we see so much variation in modern-day birds.
In what will likely come as bad news to many, Professor Darren Griffin, who participated in the study, can’t see the research leading to any theropod-based theme parks.
‘We are not going to have Jurassic Park anytime soon,’ Griffin told the BBC, explaining that you can’t just put the DNA of a dinosaur into a distant relative’s egg and hope you get a dinosaur out the other end.
I think we can trust you, Professor Griffin, but there’s something in the back of my mind telling me that life, uh… finds a way.