Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Jurassic…Or…Panic?

(In memory of a great author – Michael Crichton, from your fan – Rohan.)

Courtesy: Henrietta V.
As a kid, and like most kids, I was fascinated by dinosaurs.  For more than a century their life and times have held the fascination of many scientists, paleontologists, science fans and yes children to. Through all my growing years in school and college, these ancient beasts always occupied a very special place in my mind.  It seemed that every year, there were new species being discovered and theories being prophesied on how they lived, the structure of their ecosystems, patterns of behavior and what the cause of their demise was.  But for me, nothing brings them more to life than the two books that were written by Michael Crichton aptly titled – Jurassic Park and The Lost World.  The movie made on the first book was good and well thought out adaptation, while the next film and the one after that had too many shortcomings.  But I’m digressing. One key point that came out strongly in both the books was this: “Is it right to go ahead and clone dinosaurs?”  

With the advancements being made in genetics and the possibility of creating healthy clones, many scientists and enthusiasts are talking about transforming scientific theory into fact and resurrecting these ancient beasts that once roamed the Earth.  What they want to do is to create a real life Jurassic Park.  Where this may be situated and how it will be managed is anyone’s guess.  Right now, there is no concrete game plan known, which may be attributed to any person or group working towards this.  But the debate is still on.  

Courtesy: Henrietta V.
However, as much as the kid in me would love to see my favorite dinosaurs in the flesh, there are some grave setbacks that we should be aware of before human beings start playing God.  A part from the money involved, security issues (*remember everyone running for their lives when the power went out in the first Jurassic Park movie), military style maintenance etc. there is something a little more crucial that Crichton himself pointed out in his books.  What he stated was this, that if we could and were able to clone dinosaurs then we wouldn’t be creating the species that once roamed this planet more than 65 million years ago.  

Firstly, since we only have their bones left, our DNA extraction from them would be limited and would have too many gaps in the concerned sequences.  Like in the book, scientists would need to fill in the gaps with other relevant present day reptile and amphibian DNA, which would of course alter the original dinosaur’s composition to a large degree.  Though it would look and act close enough to the original, it would in many ways be different and largely unpredictable. Well I know none of us can really say just how dinosaurs acted and what they really looked like for sure, but as Crichton showed, one miscalculation and things could move beyond our control.  A classic example is the fact that in the Jurassic Park story, the Ingen scientists use a particular African Toad’s DNA to support all necessary sequences.  However, that particular toad has the ability to change its gender, which was missed out by the scientists who had originally intended to create only female dinosaurs as they were easier to clone and to better manage the overall population.  

Secondly, an important factor that would influence dinosaur behavior is the fact that the cloned species’ created would not have any current living predecessors to learn from.  That would be a crucial missing element; hence, they would have to behave on a more trial and error method, though some scientists would argue that their innate instincts and genetic makeup would guide them through the course of their lives.

What Crichton rightly pointed out, was that rather than recreate animals that have long since died out, it would be better to clone present day flora and fauna and focus our efforts on preserving the species that exist today.  

The safest place instead, to clone dinosaurs, would be on computer simulation software and to create smart computers that could give us deeper and safer insights rather than create living animals that could result in the loss of millions of dollars, possible human lives and the dinosaurs themselves.  

Thirdly, the food, water and air quality would be different from when these beasts lived and that could have a significant bearing on their health.  

Courtesy: Henrietta V.
For if we were to thrust an unknown set of species’ on our present day  environment, chances are that it wouldn’t be able to support them, as they would not be familiar entities.  We would in short be negatively influencing our world’s evolutionary process and instead be swaying it from the distant Jurassic to the 21st century Panic!

Next Take please!

2 comments:

  1. It's not going to work. I'm not talking about the cloning aspect here, I mean bringing animals that existed more than 65 million years ago back to life now. Those animals would never survive today. Not to mention that they are HUGE! Actually even huge is an unerstatement for Dinosaurs! The largest known was the Argentinosaurus, measuring around 120 feet from head to tail, and weighing close to 110 tonnes! Now just imagine something like that walking around in today's times!!

    And yes, efforts should be made to bring back the Dodo bird, and other species which have become extinct because of man's "developement". They should also clone tigers, which are fast becoming extinct.

    Crazy, really crazy, wanting to bring back something which started its existence more than 230 million years ago and which died 65 million years ago!!

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  2. This one is classic debate going on for couple of decades now isn't it? I mean think from man's point of view, yeah sure we can play the God's role here but then what's the animal "thinking" of it's existence - 'Hmmm, I don't fit in here , am I a product of Darwanian natural selection of fittest...nah so bail me out lord!' :D Just kidding, they may not find the survival instincts available from the past - for e.g. the tiger farms in China, they have hardly much in common with tigers from wild (and so command a handsome price in Tibetan/Chinese market esp. from India - Rajasthan and Bengal). Then there are similar reasons why we aren't allowed to proceed with stem cell research....interesting times to tread..

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