Will We Ever Get A Jurassic Park?

How far can cloning go, and what would we do with a bunch of dinosaurs anyway? On the 30th anniversary of the iconic movie’s release, we investigate if we could – and whether we should – create a real-life Jurassic Park.


Rachael Funnell


Rachael Funnell

Digital Content Producer

Rachael is a writer and digital content producer at IFLScience with a Zoology degree from the University of Southampton, UK, and a nose for novelty animal stories.

Digital Content Producer

Ilustration showing tests tubes with baby diosaurs inside fin front of what looks like a blue-lit lab

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” – Ian Malcolm

Image credit: AnnaMaria, DC_Studio/Envato (C) IFLScience 

This article first appeared in Issue 11 of our free digital magazine CURIOUS out now. 

They say be careful what you wish for, but hot damn, don’t we all want to go to Jurassic Park? Before all of the chaos and carnage and people getting eaten on the toilet, John Hammond’s dream of a dinosaur island looked like a great day out. If we ignore the very real risk of death, what is the likelihood of humans one day cloning dinosaurs? Will we ever get a Jurassic Park?


In the 30 years that have passed since the movie based on Michael Crichton’s novel first hit the silver screen, cloning has come on a long way. JP fans must have thought it an exciting day when Dolly the sheep, the first mammal successfully cloned from an adult cell, was born on July 5, 1996. Of course, there are no living adult dinosaurs from which to casually nab a cell, but what was it Jurassic Park’s Mr DNA said?

“A DNA strand, like me, is the blueprint for building a living thing. And sometimes, animals that went extinct millions of years ago, like dinosaurs, left their blueprints for us to find. We just had to know where to look!”

Unfortunately for any wealthy philanthropists who are reading this with an aim to founding a dinosaur island of their own, the science of Jurassic Park falters even at this early stage – and there are plenty more roadblocks the further you keep going. But just how close to, uh, finding a way has cloning technology made it?

Bingo! Dino DNA!

Mr DNA’s dinosaur genome extraction technique leans on the bloodsucking lifestyle of mosquitos that did exist millions of years ago – and we’ve even found blood-engorged specimens. One such example was retrieved in north-western Montana, though it was preserved in rock rather than amber. The rare specimen contained heme, the oxygen-carrying group of hemoglobin in a mosquito’s host’s blood. So bingo, right? Except that “Large and fragile molecules such as DNA cannot survive fossilization,” explained the authors of the 2013 paper, and the specimen fell short of the time of the dinosaurs by around 20 million years anyway.


To quote John Hammond in Crichton’s original book: Oh balls.

Amber fossils are, however, different from rock ones, capable of freezing organisms in time and preserving remarkable and delicate detail, such as the genitals of a 50-million-year-old assassin bug. With such fragile junk in the trunk, could an amber fossil have dino DNA to boot?

“When we look at insects in amber, what we tend to find is the outside of the insect, that kind of chitinous husk or the crunchy bit, if you like, of the insect [is preserved], but the inside stuff isn't. So, there isn't any blood found within those,” Dr Susie Maidment, dinosaur researcher at London’s Natural History Museum (NHM), told IFLScience.

While Maidment doesn’t rule out the possibility of finding preserved constituents of blood in a Mesozoic-era mosquito fossil one day, it may be that biting insects aren’t our only shot. In 2015, she was part of a team that discovered red blood cells inside a Cretaceous dinosaur fossil bone. The presence of nuclei in the blood cells, and their similarities to that of birds, mean it’s unlikely to have been a modern contamination. However, a closer look yielded bad news for anyone wanting to ride an Ankylosaur.


“We sectioned the cells using a focused ion beam, which is like a really high-powered, ultra-small knife and we stained the nuclei to see if there was any DNA – but we didn't find anything,” said Maidment in an NHM article. “Even if you find blood or soft tissue, you don't necessarily find DNA.”

Filling in the gaps

It seems no specimens to date have contained sufficient genetic material for a discussion about cloning just yet, but what if one day that changed? On a warming planet, you can’t be sure what’s about to pop out of the permafrost, so what if we found a partial dinosaur genome? Could that be enough if we stuffed the gaps with, say, frog DNA?

“There are some fairly major flaws with this whole concept,” explained Maidment. “Firstly, to know where the gaps in the DNA are, you need to have the whole genome to start with otherwise you don't know which bits are missing.”

“The second problem is that frogs are probably the least likely organism you’d choose[…] the organism that you would choose would be birds, because birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs. When Jurassic Park came out, I don't think that was 100 percent accepted. Humans are more closely related to dinosaurs than frogs are. So, it was totally a bizarre choice, but it was needed for the narrative of the film.”

A baby dinosaur eye peeking out of a cracking egg shell
Clever girl.
Image credit: funstarts33/

The sex-switching capabilities of some amphibians did indeed make for a thrilling plot twist, but it seems that, in reality, this would be a pitfall for any startup trying to cook up some dinosaurs in a lab. It pays to remember that Jurassic Park was intended as a work of fiction, not an instruction manual, so that it isn’t the blueprint for a real-world theme park isn’t surprising, or an indictment of the body of work.

With that in mind: books aside, where do we stand on bringing extinct animals back to life?

Doing the dodo

As Dolly showed the world, creating a clone of an extant animal is within our grasp, but when dealing with species that are no longer living and breathing you’ve got to get a little more resourceful. In recent years, stories about bringing back the dodo and the “de-extinction” of the woolly mammoth seem to be in the news all the time. Is there any substance behind the hype?

In February of this year, Colossal Biosciences received $150 million in funding for their project to bring back Raphus cucullatus, the dodo. Earth’s lost, bottom-heavy bird shuffled off this mortal coil some 350 years ago, and yet scientists have still been able to map its full genome.

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The roadmap to a living dodo, for scientists at Colossal Laboratories & Biosciences, begins with its closest living relative: the Nicobar pigeon. By making primordial germ cells of extinct and endangered species, they hope to be able to transfer these to a surrogate chicken host so that they can be incubated and hatch as nature intended.

This strategy might seem like a glimmer of hope for the future of a real Jurassic Park. We’re within the realm of birds, after all, the living descendants of dinosaurs. However, these animals also represent a uniquely difficult task for cloning.

The marble run of avian reproduction

Before we go trying to get a chicken to lay a velociraptor, we should recap on the complex nature of avian reproduction. This veritable marble run of ovulation means that once the yolk leaves the ovary, it’s constantly on the move. It travels from there to the oviduct, then into a construction line that layers the albumin (egg white) and shell membrane.

Creating a mammalian clone is a comparatively simple task of making an embryo and sticking it inside a surrogate uterus. Unfortunately, one cannot simply make a dinosaur egg and put it inside a chicken.

What if we did it anyway?

Were we to suspend disbelief – a willingness that underpins all good sci-fi – and accept that dinosaur cloning could happen, are we even set up to house dinosaurs in the modern era? After all, the entire Jurassic franchise hinges on the pitfalls of inappropriate security around bloodthirsty animals (why didn’t a park supposedly cloning dinosaurs have the budget for a remote-controlled gate, anyway?).

It’s no secret that for all the good work some zoos do, there are plenty of others keeping captive animals in poorly maintained and inappropriately sized enclosures. If we can’t keep bears happy, what hope do we have of enriching a captive therizinosaur? Somehow, we can’t see people wanting to hold ol’ salad scoops’ freaky talons like the adorable paws of an otter.

Indeed, animal rights is a tricky subject when it comes to creating corporate assets with brains and feelings. As is *checks notes* grass…?

“What about the things that they eat?” posited Maidment, sensibly. “Grass hadn't evolved when the dinosaurs were around. So, the herbivores weren't eating grass, which is quite difficult to eat. It has lots of bits of almost glass-like material in it, which causes your teeth to wear down really fast.”


“Things like horses have evolved these very high-crowned teeth, which wear down over time,” she explains. “Dinosaurs didn't have that, they replaced their teeth continuously throughout their lives, but if they were eating grass, could they have digested it? Could their teeth replacement rate keep up with being worn away? And would plants today be poisonous for these dinosaurs that lived in a world where flowering plants hadn't even evolved yet?”

With existing cloning technologies, animal rights policies, and the marble run of avian reproduction being what they are, it seems like a day out at Jurassic Park is probably consigned to fiction. That said, with nobody but prospective dinosaur dentists set to profit from the return of a potentially human-eating extinct animal group, perhaps now is the time for questioning if we should, rather than if we could.

CURIOUS magazine is a digital magazine from IFLScience featuring interviews, experts, deep dives, fun facts, news, book excerpts, and much more. Issue 11 is out now.


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