There have been many extinction events in the history that the earth has faced caused by impacts celestial bodies, volcanoes, movement of tectonic plates or any other phenomenon through which the possible habitable environment was degraded leading of fall of a complete food chain.
Dinosaurs are believed to have inhabited the earth for 100 – 150 million years and became extinct due 65 million years ago. So did numerous other animal and plant species.
Though not the largest extinction event in earth history, this event is fancied upon by researchers and layman as the dinosaurs died out in the period. There have been many theories on how it happened, and all of them point to these phenomena that possibly occurred leading to the extinction:
- Atmospheric blackout to block sunlight.
- Fall of Celestial Body to trigger atmospheric blackout and earthquakes.
- Falling of Sea-Levels.
- Toxic waste released by volcanic eruptions.
All of these hypotheses are supported by ground proof lying under the soil. The Iridium content is high in the K-T boundary ( in soil ) all over the world and Iridium is not in abundance for sure, while generally found in large amounts in Celestial Bodies. This was aided by the discovery of an area in a ‘state’ hundreds of km wide which is believed to be created by an impact of 10 km wide heavenly body. The collision is believed to have released energy summing to that of thousands of simultaneous nuclear explosions.
Coming to the point, can these fierce creatures that once roamed the planet be re-created? I would like to revise the question to ‘How’ instead to ‘Can’.
There have been undergoing attempts for de-extinction of various species like the Woolly Mammoth, and it can be affirmed that we are not far from doing that. Let us have some discussion on the process of resurrection.
Techniques for the re-creation of extinct species include popular approaches like cloning and selective breeding.
- Selective breeding: This approach is not only seen in de-extinction but also in popular day to day applications like developing hybrid species for plantation, and mating of domestic animals of similar origin to obtain various desired characteristics.
- Cloning: In general cloning deals with using a cell nucleus/tissues and a female egg-cell to yield new organism after being born from the surrogate.
- Another process includes alteration and controlled development when the organism is in the embryo stage. Control of the enzymes and proteins can trigger various results.
How will it happen?
I’ve chosen the words quite carefully in the title above and discarding any ambiguity here there is quite a possibility that human race will be able to witness the milestone of creating a living Dinosaur in Lab.
To assert these assumptions we have a living example of a number of extinct creatures created by cloning. Pyrenean ibex was one of the first organism, extinct and resurrected. Cloning with many modifications are applied in the process that needs a healthy, intact tissue for the availability of the complete DNA chain of the organism to be resurrected. Luckily tissues of the last specimen of Pyrenean ibex were preserved in liquid nitrogen to gave highly maintained cells, which is not in the case of Dinosaurs.
Before few years, the possibility of finding soft tissues ( soft tissues are cells of muscles, blood, etc is the first to decay ) in such fossils wasn’t considered as there were no frozen areas at the time when the giants went extinct and 65 million years is too long a time for soft tissues to remain intact as they will eventually be prone to chemical changes under the effect of environment. Species like Mammoth, however, were into existence a few thousand years ago and many labs have soft tissues of such species in storage, though likely to be partially damaged. A Japanese research group is working on the project of creating Woolly Mammoth and asserts that it will succeed within 6 years. The project started in 2011 and they plan to use African elephant as the surrogate who will give birth to Woolly Mammoth.
Now this of how great an achievement will this be. Science has brought us to the level of progress that we can make a species that’s extinct since a few thousand years be born again.
But what about Dinosaurs?
The first basic that comes to our mind will be Cloning. Now because it requires the availability of soft tissues, or DNA chain, or to our luck Dinosaur embryos if possible. For many decades scientists have been under the belief that it will be impossible to find soft tissues in Dinosaur fossils, where given that even the bones are found in very bad conditions.
So they did actually find soft tissues in Dinosaurs?
In 2005, Mary Schweitzer from North Carolina State University was researching on bone formations of Dinosaurs and how they differ from referenced specimens when she broke pieces from the leg bone of a T. Rex to view under the microscope.
What she found shocked her and other researchers as well. Actual red blood cells and blood vessels were seen when viewing the specimen under the microscope. Several questions were raised on whether they actually belonged to the fossilized creature they were found in or were a result of exterior contact after being dug out. Quite recently researchers were analyzing fragments of bone structures that were unearthed some 100 years ago. The pieces were of below average quality ( even trash looks better ) looking at whom you wouldn’t expect to have blood cells in. Take a look at what History.com had to say on this here.
There is quite a possibility that this finding will have a huge impact on ongoing research since very little ground information about body structure and biological system of Jurassic beasts was known. This may be the sole step towards knowing whether they were warm blooded or cold blooded, or somewhere in between. The blood cells that were found contained a cell nucleus affirming that it didn’t belong to someone from the current time since mammals contain RBC without the cell nucleus. If the DNA chain is intact, or even partly intact ( it won’t be ), groundbreaking revelations about the creatures can be revealed.
These findings can be established as a milestone in paleontology. A possibility lies that one day we can find a healthy soft tissue and fix the missing fragments by that of close linage to the Jurassic Creatures to create a clone.
Another research had shown that birds are more closely related to Dinosaurs than anyone else. It is believed that the fetus while in the embryo stage undergoes all the stages that the species went during the process of evolution. While studying early development stages of bird, it was noted that the fetus had tail and teeth. These disappeared later under the effect of various enzymes. Researchers tried to control the effect of such enzymes and after repeated trials, they hatched a bird with teeth and a tail ( Not Feather Tail ).
Scientists are quite close in the process of Resurrection of the Woolly Mammoth and they have fully sequenced the genome ( DNA chain ). It might be fair to believe that interesting discoveries are on their way and luckily we might get to see a Dinosaur in some decades.
- History.com with linked content on the discovery of soft tissues.
- AOL article on Mammoth Resurrection.
- Smithsonian Mag with the content on affirming the soft tissues to belong to Dinosaurs.
- Livescience.com for a series of articles on Dinosaurs, their extinction, relation with chickens and birds.
- Wikipedia.com for basic information and data.