Report: Eccentric Billionaire Hopes to Clone Dinosaurs
August 2, 2012 4:26 AM
(Source: Universal Pictures)
Will dreams of real-life Jurassic Park be realized?
Australian mining mogul Clive Palmer is one of his nation's richest men, holding a fortune of over $8.4B USD and controlling much of the nation's rich mineral supplies. Like many billionaires, Mr. Palmer has occupied himself with odd projects, including the soccer (football) club he owns, Gold Coast United.
I. Billionaire Sets Sights on Reviving the Saurians
But following a 2009 heart attack due to sleep apnea, Mr. Palmer became increasingly eccentric setting his sights on more unusual projects.
The billionaire recent revealed plans to build a replica of the Titanic in China and sail it as a luxury cruise liner in the waters around Australia, as early as 2016. Now he reportedly has taken an interest in cloning
local Australian newspaper
Sunshine Coast Daily
Clive Palmer has already announced plans to resurrect
The RMS Titanic
. He's rumored to be aiming to recreate a dinosaur next. [Image Source: EPA/Dan Peled]
Mr. Palmer has scheduled a press conference for Friday in Brisbane, Australia.
Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson has already confirmed that Mr. Palmer plans to build a new resort dubbed the "Palmer Resort" in the Middle East, featuring "fly-in, fly-out Muslim hospitality staff." The resort will include a 20-story sky needle and an oversized ferris wheel in the style of the London Eye.
But according to a source who leaked those plans early, Mr. Palmer's wildest dream for the resort is to clone a dinosaur and set it loose in a special exhibit at the resort for his guests to watch. The source claimed to the newspaper that Mr. Palmer has retained the expertise of the
team that cloned Dolly the sheep
to try to make it happen.
II. Plan is Likely Not Feasible With Current Technology
Assuming the report is accurate and not an elaborate joke on the part of Mr. Palmer and his friends, the dinosaur ambitions will prove daunting.
Thus far researchers have discovered soft tissue samples from dinosaur bones, but it is unclear whether DNA -- which is easily destroyed by water-based reactions -- could have survived for millions of years. Back in 1994
[abstract] by microbiologist
Brigham Young University
, who claimed to have found dinosaur DNA in a bone specimen. However, the claim was questioned and has been heavily criticized in discussion since.
The good news for the DNA hunters is that
recent microbiology analyses
[abstract] have revealed that dinosaur cells were very similar to bird cells, hence their genome was likely similar to birds. Why is that good news? Birds have a very "small" genome compared to fellow vertebrates, at around 1.4 billion base pairs, versus just over 3 billion for humans.
Still, recovered DNA sequences from fossilized bugs have been only 250 to 300 base pairs long [
]. Hence you'd still need to conjure up tens, if not hundreds of millions of fragments in order to "finish" a dinosaur.
There's several speculative routes to "resurrecting" the dinosaur, however they all remain highly improbable. [Image Source: The Field Museum]
Such analysis would also be complicated by the possibility of genetic material from bacteria who were oft living inside dinosaurs' bodies and played a crucial role in some forms of fossilization. Bacterial and fungal DNA could be excluded by comparing to map bacterial gene sequences, but this would be a daunting task.
Dr. David L. Stern
professor who wrote 2010's book
Evolution, Development, & the Predictable Genome
an alternative route, suggesting that by comparing modern descendants of dinosaurs (e.g. birds and mammals) scientist could eventually backtrack genetic development to create possible dinosaur genomes.
A final possibility would be to somehow locate a
specimen and use the aforementioned methods to try to speculate/create close genetic relatives. Of course this would require finding a living dinosaur.
And while the discovery of
(Coelocanths) off the coast of Africa have raised hopes of finding something more exotic -- such as a plesiosaur -- experts say such survival stories are increasingly improbable as the size of the creature increases. Hence, whatever wiped out the dinosaurs was less likely successively to wipe out an ancient fish, insect, or fungus.
So how exactly does Mr. Palmer hope to create a dinosaur? Who knows, but he might find more fortune trying to resurrect
a more recently extinct animal
, such as the mammoth, whose
genome is nearing completion
. If he's feeling ambitious, he could always try to clone a sabertooth tiger -- such as
"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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