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Question Your World: Can Jurassic World Really Happen?

dino question

In 1993 Steven Spielberg kicked our fascination with dinosaurs into high gear with the first Jurassic Park movie. Since then we've seen many more films, books, songs, and TV shows involving these extinct beasts. Over twenty years later the new movie further enforces our interest in dinosaurs, but could we ever use advancing scientific technology to really bring them back? Can Jurassic World really happen?  Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

On its opening weekend Jurassic World pulled in over $511 million and broke the world record for the highest grossing movie premiere ever. Clearly the world is interested in movies that discuss the ethics of science. This movie has tons of dinosaurs, intense action scenes, hilarious one liners, and continues the debate that Ian Malcolm started in 1993 about the perils of messing around with nature.

In this movie Jurassic World scientists have created a brand new dinosaur, one that never existed during the Dino-hay day millions of years ago. In order to make a new dinosaur these scientists harvested DNA from their existing dinosaurs and mixed in genetic aspects of frogs, fish, and beyond. A few well written lines dart around the topic of warm blood or feathers, all recent discoveries from some of the world's best paleontologists. Once the plot starts to unfold we learn that this dinosaur has taken on more qualities of other animals than initially intended by scientists. Thus ushering in the conversation of the ethics of making a brand new creature. This is rooted in the conversation that started in 1993 with the original movie, but here we are in 2015. Technology certainly has advanced a lot in the last twenty three years. So, how close are we to making this actually happen?

Many big changes have taken place since the first sighting of Jurassic Park dinos on the silver screen. The topic of de-extinction has become a pretty hot topic in the science world actually. We're not just talking about technology either. For instance, increased glacial melt has allowed many frozen plants to start to re-grow once again. These plants and flowers have been trapped under layers of ice for thousands of years and are now finally starting to grow back ushering in their place in the de-extinction conversation. How will these plants impact the various creatures that will interact with them? Currently birds, insects, and other animals have evolved to live in these colder areas without the previously missing plants around. What will this do to the ecosystem? Will these second chance plants impact the current ebb and flow of life in those areas or will it go extinct unable to keep up with contemporary ecological standards? This is one instance in which nature has brought in its own aspect of de-extinction.

On the other end we've got some very interested parties that are promoting the concept of bringing back extinct creatures for research and further understanding what life was like before we were around to document things. Scientists have fully mapped the genome of a horse that died nearly 700,000 years ago. That was a different world back then. The environment had not shifted to what it is now, everything from gas levels to plant life has drastically been changed. Would reviving this genetic line help us further understand what conditions were like back then or would we simply be making a creature that does not belong in this time period?

Plants and horses also would have another de-extinction friend if some other scientists have the opportunity they've been seeking. There has been some talk among paleontologists to bring back a wooly mammoth using an elephant as the mother. This would involve playing with genetic materials and then using a female elephant to act as the natural incubator to bring a mammoth back into existence.

Plants, horses, and elephants sure are not as intense as dinosaurs, but its the start of a pretty big conversation at the very least. While we're not seeing the technology needed to make these things happen quite yet, future scientists may have access to these options. Going back to 1993, Ian Malcolm certainly made a good point for future generations to consider. Just because we can make things happen, the bigger question is should we be making them happen? After a successful series of films on this topic we can see that the interest is there, but let us not forget the lesson we learn in every single one of these films. In any attempt humanity has to contain nature, life will...uh...find...a...way!