Monday, June 29, 2009

Bringing Back the Dinosaurs: Not a Crazy Idea Any More

"Jurassic Park comes true: How scientists are bringing dinosaurs back to life with the help of the humble chicken"
MailOnline (June 13, 2009)

"Deep inside the dusty university store room, three scientists struggle to lift a huge fossilised bone.

"It is from the leg of a dinosaur.

"For many years, this chunky specimen has languished cryptically on a shelf.

Interesting but useless — a forgotten relic of a lost age.

"Now, with hammer and chisel poised, the academics from Montana State University in America gather round.

"They are about to shatter this rare vestige of the past.

"Why would they do such a thing?

"The answer is that they believe that this single fragment of a beast which stalked the earth untold millions of years ago could hold the key which will unlock the secrets of the dinosaurs...."

The first part of the article is long on drama and short on facts, and may have been intended to draw attention to a television documentary, "Dinosaurs: Return To Life." Something with the same title and subject aired on Discovery Channel - yesterday, I see.

Too bad. It might have been an entertaining - and possibly informative - way to spend an hour. I may catch a re-run, eventually.

Farther down the 'page,' the MailOnline article gets into what makes "Dinosaurs: Return to Life" more than one more docuflick about dinosaurs.

While airlifting a remarkably well-preserved and complete 68 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in Montana, a thigh bone was cracked open.

Still, two halves of a thighbone are better than none, so Montana State University professor of palaeontology Jack Horner, palaeontologist Mary Schweitzer and research assistant Jennifer Wittmeyer studied the thing. Schweitzer noticed an odd structure in a piece she'd been given to scrutinize.

Cutting a long story short, there was 68,000,000-year-old T-rex tissue in the bone.

It wasn't exactly fresh, but it was still gooey. The scientists think they may have spotted osteocytes in the mess: bone-growing cells.

The article discusses a number of other points, including mutant chickens at the University of Wisconsin.

My guess is that, between parts of dinosaur DNA that may be recovered from finds like the one in Montana, and what we're learning about the genetic code, it may not be all that long before someone grows a reasonable facsimile of a dinosaur.

Aside from being a subject for media sensationalism, and despite its being raised in what is profoundly not its natural habitat, there would be a great deal to be learned from a living, breathing dinosaur.

And, Jurassic Park notwithstanding, my guess is that the trick would be keeping the creature alive.

More, about studying dinosaurs, at "Trotting With Emus To Walk With Dinosaurs," Science Daily, (October 30, 2006).

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