Dinosaurs Vs microbes
29 May 2018
With the new Jurassic World film on the horizon, I’m returning to my childhood obsession of dinosaurs. My room is still full of dinosaur books and models, including the lego velociraptor ‘blue’ from the last Jurassic World film.
Can we resurrect the dinosaurs? In one of my favourite books, Bring Back the King, the new science of de-extinction, Helen Pilcher explored the possibilities of recreating the dinosaurs. She wondered if modern molecular biology techniques could be used to extract the DNA from fossils to create a walking relic. She concluded that with the degradation of DNA, there hasn’t been a fossil found with detectable DNA, so this offers little opportunity for the de-extinction of these special reptiles.
Wing and a prayer
Pilcher explored the option of turning to the dinos closest living relatives. If birds evolved from dinosaurs, their genes could possibly be manipulated to create an organism with features from dinosaurs. Helen spoke to researchers who’ve manipulated chicken embryos to grow teeth instead of beaks and leg with claws instead of wings.
Although these manipulations are possible, by altering the codes for specific proteins, the eggs are not allowed to be hatched. This means the bird-dinosaurs may not be able to survive, which is obviously necessary for resurrecting the dinosaurs.
Survival of the fittest
So, we are still a long way from having a living dino, but what would happen if we bought them back? Would they survive our current microbes? Imagine for a second, Dr Who collected a zoo-full of dinosaurs with the Tardis and brought them to present day. These reptiles would only have an immune response to microbes from 65 million years ago.
A single bacterial cell can divide to form millions of cells in less than a day. If a mutation occurs, the bacteria could change in a timescale of days. Since dinosaurs have become extinct, bacteria have had over 2 billion days to form new strains and species while the dino’s immune system has been locked at a point 65 million years ago.
Although we can easily work out how fast bacteria grow, it’s harder to estimate the rate at which new pathogenic strains can be created. It's also a challenge to predict whichmicrobes would be pathogenic to the dinosaurs. Antibiotic resistance has been shared between bacteria since the discovery of penicillin in 1928.
The ability of bacteria to develop or share resistance traits has resulted in major research efforts, a concept which has accelerated in less than a century. This makes the changes in microbes over millions of years seem impossible to grasp.
The dinosaurs would probably have to be kept on high doses of antibiotics.The result might be the re-extinction of the dinosaurs. At least this time, we could be certain of the cause.
Even with this conclusion, I hope I’m wrong and can have a pet dinosaur in the future. Imagine the beauty of working with a creature that's been dead for millions of years. If anyone out there is creating a living dinosaur, especially a carnivore, can I please volunteer to work for you?
Pilcher H. (2016) Bring back the King, the new science of de-extinction. Bloomsbury Sigma, London.
Pray L. (2008) Antibiotic Resistance, Mutation Rates and MRSA.