The final nail in the Jurassic Park coffin: Next generation sequencing reveals absence of DNA in sub-fossilized insects

The final nail in the Jurassic Park coffin: Next generation sequencing reveals absence of DNA in sub-fossilized insects
This image shows a sub-fossilized insect in copal. Credit: Dr. David Penney, University of Manchester

It is hardly possible to talk about fossil insects in amber without the 1993 movie Jurassic Park entering the debate. The idea of recreating dinosaurs by extracting DNA from insects in amber has held the fascination of the public for two decades. Claims for successful extraction of DNA from ambers up to 130 million-years-old by various scientists in the early 1990s were only seriously questioned when a study at the Natural History Museum, London, was unable to replicate the process. The original claims are now considered by many to be a text-book example of modern contaminant DNA in the samples. Nonetheless, some scientists hold fast to their original claims.

Research just published in the journal The Public Library of Science ONE (PLOS ONE) by a team of researchers from the Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester can now confirm that the existence of DNA in amber fossils is highly unlikely. The team led by amber expert Dr David Penney and co-ordinated by ancient DNA expert Professor Terry Brown used highly-sensitive 'next generation' sequencing techniques – the most advance type of DNA sequencing - on insects in copal, the sub-fossilized resin precursor of amber.

The research was conducted wearing full forensic suits in the dedicated ancient DNA facility at The University of Manchester, which comprises a suite of independent, physically isolated laboratories, each with an ultra-filtered air supply maintaining positive displacement pressure and a managed access system.

According to Professor Brown: "In the original 1990s studies DNA amplification was achieved by a process called the (PCR), which will preferentially amplify any modern, undamaged DNA molecules that contaminate an extract of partially degraded ancient ones to give false positive results that might be mistaken for genuine ancient DNA. Our approach, using 'next generation' sequencing methods is ideal for ancient DNA because it provides sequences for all the DNA molecules in an extract, regardless of their length, and is less likely to give preference to contaminating modern molecules."

The team concluded that their inability to detect ancient DNA in relatively young (60 years to 10,600 years old) sub-fossilized insects in copal, despite using sensitive next generation methods, suggests that the potential for DNA survival in resin inclusions is no better, and perhaps worse, than that in air-dried museum insects (from which DNA has been retrieved using similar techniques). This raises significant doubts about claims of DNA extraction from in amber, many millions of years older than copal.

Dr Penney said: "Intuitively, one might imagine that the complete and rapid engulfment in resin, resulting in almost instantaneous demise, might promote the preservation of DNA in a resin entombed insect, but this appears not to be the case. So, unfortunately, the Jurassic Park scenario must remain in the realms of fiction."

Explore further

Sequencing without PCR reduces bias in measuring biodiversity

More information: Penney, D., Wadsworth, C., Fox, G., Kennedy, S.L., Preziosi, R.F. & Brown, T.A. (2013) Absence of ancient DNA in sub fossil insect inclusions preserved in 'Anthropocene' Colombian copal. PLoS ONE,
Journal information: PLoS ONE

Citation: The final nail in the Jurassic Park coffin: Next generation sequencing reveals absence of DNA in sub-fossilized insects (2013, September 11) retrieved 19 October 2019 from
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Sep 11, 2013
You mean it's not true?

But I saw it in a documentary at the theater?

Sep 11, 2013
Nonsense. We will eventually know enough about genetics and all the potential variations that genes can produce, to effectively reverse-engineer extinct animals using their fossils alone.

For instance by modeling the braincase we will be able to begin to engineer the brain that was inside it. By analyzing leg bones we will be able to reconstruct the nerves and muscles which gave them their form. Etc.

Life has not shown infinite variation. We see in the fossil record recurring forms serving similar functions. We can catalogue the genes which produced these forms and reproduce them

Piece of cake.

I offer as evidence the chickasaurus. Look it up.

Sep 11, 2013
Sorry I went off there half-cocked harhar. Chickenosaurus. Tastes like chicken.

Sep 11, 2013
What a downer! But all hope is not lost for the park. What of the meteor that killed the dinos? There's gotta be some flash frozen asteroid out there, full of terrifying dinosaur mush!

I can already see it as a field of research, a few hundred years from now. Chronocryogenetics!

Sep 11, 2013
Maybe for blood in insects but for bone containing enough dna another recent article stretches the limits of dna survival to nearly 1 million years, so its far from all hopes lost.

here is the article:http://www.techno...urvival/

Sep 11, 2013
Reconstructing dinosaurs from DNA from ancient samples does seem unlikely.

Constructing dinosaurs from scratch is a different matter - not in the near term, but eventually. Of course the dinosaurs produced by novel, engineered DNA won't be the same, genetically, as dinosaurs that actually lived in the distant past. But they could be superficially, macroscopically close, and that's all that is needed for a 'Jurassic Park.' The paying public won't care.

I doubt it's worth the effort, myself. But it does seem as though our mastery of DNA is moving forward, and it's not clear that we will not be capable of producing just about anything we want to produce once that mastery is sufficiently advanced.

Sep 11, 2013
We already have carnivorous dinosaurs presently alive and well. They are called "banks and politicians". Their DNA have been contaminated badly.

Sep 12, 2013
I agree with Urgelt and GOtto. Wouldn't it be nice to design an organism in the same manner we write code today, and have it compiled into the actual thing! So one could program an apple tree that bears great waterproof troves of starch, easy to harvest! And before someone says the metabolic differences would poison the thing, many plants already use "filters" which only allow basic materials to pass from plant to fruit, like a placenta.

Has anyone heard of research into computer modeling of 3d cell division and growth of whole tissues, like a leaf?

Sep 12, 2013
There are real reasons the dinosaurs became extinct; we just don't really know what they were. We try to recreate past organisms at our own peril. It is both morally and biologically unwise.

Sep 12, 2013
There are real reasons the dinosaurs became extinct; we just don't really know what they were. We try to recreate past organisms at our own peril. It is both morally and biologically unwise.
No it is morally and biologically unwise to extinct animals. It is very wise to reconstitute extinct plants and animals as we have much to gain in terms of knowledge, pharmaceuticals, money, etc.

Russia is currently constructing a pleistocene park and hopes to eventually populate it with extinct animals.

Sep 15, 2013
Why dredge up the atoms of an earlier age?

I mean you can get a chicken - remove the feather genes and make it really huge and add teeth genes.

Then you can get a Komodo dragon and give it long legged genes on the back and short legged genes on the front, and make it really huge.

And you can get a salt water crockodille, and just make that REALLY huge and add whale genes.

A few goes here and a few goes there and then you get 20 - 120 ton monsters that are just like the real ones.

Easier than baking gay artichoke and olive and herb bread, with a really scrummy crust - with lots of sesame seeds and poppy seeds, and an egg yolk wash to make the crust really crunchy - really.

All while your dressed in your favourite pink dinosaur slippers, hair in curlers and getting ready for the cross dressing contest of the year.

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