What are Some Biological Issues in Jurassic Park?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The 1993 film Jurassic Park was the world's highest-grossing film at the time of its release, making over $914 million USD (US dollars) in revenue. The premise of the film is that scientists were able to revive dinosaurs by getting their DNA out of the gut of ancient mosquitoes preserved in amber. The fragments of dinosaur DNA are amplified using PCR (polymerase chain reaction), the gaps are filled in with frog DNA, and the repaired genome is then injected into an ostrich egg and brought to term in an artificial womb. Since the movie was released, curious people have asked, "Could that actually be possible?"

Debate continues regarding whether it is possible to recover authentic DNA from ancient creatures.
Debate continues regarding whether it is possible to recover authentic DNA from ancient creatures.

Often, when a biologist is asked about the feasibility of Jurassic Park, they get intellectually stuck on one of the numerous scientific inaccuracies in the dinosaur revival scheme, using that as a justification to dismiss the possibility, even in principle or after centuries of scientific progress. Despite these inaccuracies, there is a substantial chance that dinosaur revival could indeed be possible, though it would necessarily involve advanced biotechnology -- a biotechnology several decades more advanced than today's, at least. However, biotechnological advances between 1993 and today have already caused some of the earlier doubters of Jurassic Park to think twice before condemning the possibility.

DNA from mammoths has been recovered.
DNA from mammoths has been recovered.

There are numerous instances of fictional glossing-over in the biotechnological scenario presented in Jurassic Park. Let's separate truth from fiction. First off, isolating ancient DNA from long-dead organisms trapped in amber is entirely possible. However, there is great disagreement as to whether it is possible to recover authentic DNA from specimens more than about a million years old. In the early 1990s, it was reported that ancient DNA had been recovered from stingless bees, termites, weevils, one dinosaur, plants, and bacteria dating all the way back to 80 million year old specimens from the Cretaceous era. Unfortunately, a later critical review found that these claims were all very tenuous, and that aside from two highly controversial instances of 300 million year old bacterial DNA recovery from rock salt, it is unlikely that DNA much older than a million years has ever been successfully recovered and amplified. The dinosaur DNA turned out to be a human Y chromosome, introduced to the sample via contamination.

There is still great disagreement as to whether the recovery of truly ancient DNA is possible. Whether it is or not, it has been confirmed that more recent DNA, including DNA from Neanderthals and mammoths, has indeed been recovered. There are, however, further problems with the Jurassic Park scenario. Filling in gaps in dinosaur DNA with frog DNA is likely to be extremely difficult, if possible at all. One would need to know which frog genes are homologous with which dinosaur genes, which would likely require a huge amount of dinosaur DNA fragments and sequencing data. Input the wrong genes, and the animal might not even grow past the embryo stage.

The third major challenge with the Jurassic Park approach is getting a suitable egg for the artificial dinosaur gamete to be injected into. An ostrich egg would not work. Instead, an egg of the exact same species would be required. This could theoretically be synthesized from the original genetic material, but it would be difficult. This challenge is not addressed in Jurassic Park -- instead it is glossed over.

If the three main challenges listed (recovery of DNA, repairing the genome, synthetic egg of the same species) can be overcome, then a Jurassic Park scenario could become possible in real life. Until then, science will go on as always. In any case, it's far more likely that recently extinct species, such as mammoths and Neanderthals, will be revived before any dinosaurs.

In order to create a Jurassic Park scenario, scientists would have to overcome the challenges presented by recovering the DNA, repairing the genome, and synthesizing an egg.
In order to create a Jurassic Park scenario, scientists would have to overcome the challenges presented by recovering the DNA, repairing the genome, and synthesizing an egg.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments


I would like to remind everyone that Jurassic Park is a movie, so you shouldn't expect dinosaurs or people in general to act and react as they did in the movie. I don't know how things would be different from the movie if scientist did bring the dinosaurs back to life, but my guess is the reality would be less adventurous and dramatic than the fantasy provided by Hollywood.


I love Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park 3. I thought the entire series was great. However, I prefer the science in the film remain fictional. The movie showed us some of the things that could go wrong. I think we should learn something from that fictional depiction. Really, why do we need to bring dinosaurs back to life?


If we do finally figure out the science that was portrayed in Jurassic Park, I wonder about science's ability to perfectly recreate animals as they actually were in their original forms. I have the same issue with cloning, and of course that has come to fruition. Still, I don't quite trust the science.


Maybe if science does figure out a way to bring the extinct plants and animals from the past then we won't have to concern ourselves so much with endangered species and worry about contributing to the extinction of other organisms.

I am in favor of protecting the environment up to a certain point, but I draw the line when our efforts to save a species of bird or reptile becomes more important than humans having jobs so they can work and provide for their families. I think we worry too much about saving these animals, and we do it more for ourselves than the animals anyway.

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