Technology Dinosaurs can't be cloned - Dammit




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  1. #1
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    Dinosaurs can't be cloned - Dammit

    Thanks a lot Science, you ruined a dream of mine.

    "Let's just tear the band-aid off: all DNA deteriorates at about the same rate, and a recent study published in Nature found that rate to be a half-life of 521 years. So unless Chris Columbus was riding a plesiosaur when he "discovered" the "new world", collecting enough DNA to clone a dinosaur is pretty much completely impossible.

    Even preserved in amber, it deteriorates fully in 1.5 million years. Given that the last dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, bringing them back looks to be totally out of the question."

    DNA's Half-Life Makes Cloning Dinosaurs Impossible - IGN

    DNA has a 521-year half-life : Nature News & Comment

    http://i.imgur.com/lglU0.gif <- NSFW

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    Not to worry. Even if you had cloned a dinosaur, you'd probably be out of luck.

    There's evidence that the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere was much higher in the Cretaceous - perhaps as high as 35% (as opposed to our current 21%), and that may have been required for such large body sizes. Put a critter that's built to use 35% into a 21% atmosphere, it probably wouldn't do well.

    In addition - feeding dinosaurs would be difficult. Not only is proper herbiage scarce, but the strains of intestinal flora (bacteria living in the gut, which is typically required for proper digestion of food) may not exist anymore.

    So, if you did manage to clone a dinosaur, you'd likely be looking at a critter that would be constantly malnourished and gasping for breath.

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    On the other hand, science is wrong about stuff like this all the time. Techniques for recovering decayed DNA will improve, and what looks unrecoverable today may well be completely doable one, five, ten years from now.

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    Just do what the Rani did: pop back to the appropriate eras and grab the DNA you need. You can even avoid the problems of inbreeding by selecting hundreds of samples instead of just a few.
    Then have them grown in the casinos at Vegas, where the pipe in extra O2 to keep people awake and playing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fast Learner View Post
    On the other hand, science is wrong about stuff like this all the time. Techniques for recovering decayed DNA will improve, and what looks unrecoverable today may well be completely doable one, five, ten years from now.
    With that kind of half-life, this is unlikely.

    If the half-life of the material is X years, that means that after X years, half the material is gone. After another half-life, another half the material is gone (you're down to a quarter of it remaining), then an eighth, a sixteenth.

    If the half life were 1.5 million years (it isn't - but let us say it was), then we are talking about 43 half-lives. From any original sample, you have 1/8,796,000,000,000 of the original sample.

    That means you have something like one part in 9 trillion left.

    Now, let us assume the dinosaur is about as complicated as a human - the human genome has some 3 billion nucleotide bases.

    One part in 9 trillion, when you only have 3 billion to start with, is, to use the technical term, bupkis. You'd need thousands of samples to get a single base pair.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
    With that kind of half-life, this is unlikely.

    If the half-life of the material is X years, that means that after X years, half the material is gone.
    It doesn't mean the material is gone, it means its structure has decayed beyond our ability to get information out of it. The material didn't (necessarily) cease to exist.

    In a decade, or two, or ten, we might be able to, I don't know, measure lingering quarks or something. Effectively look back in time at the atomic structure of something with some kind of particle bombardment. Whatever.

    Science repeatedly pushes past what it believes the theoretical limits of things are. That doesn't mean, of course, that there's always a place to push past to, but we're still far too ignorant about sub-atomic particles to make any reasonable claims about what does and doesn't exist in a given chunk of incredibly old DNA.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fast Learner View Post
    It doesn't mean the material is gone, it means its structure has decayed beyond our ability to get information out of it. The material didn't (necessarily) cease to exist.
    Well, that depends on what you mean by "the material".

    The atoms, no, they don't cease to exist. But the molecules of DNA, yes, they cease to exist. The long molecules break into small and smaller pieces, the atoms recombining with other elements around them. Eventually, the longest piece remaining is only one base long, and you can never hope to regain the information.
    Last edited by Umbran; Saturday, 13th October, 2012 at 03:02 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
    That means you have something like one part in 9 trillion left.
    The human body has 50 trillion cells. And each of them contains our full DNA sequence. So if you give me 1/9-trillionth of the DNA in my body you would have 5x the material found in a full sequence.

    That doesn't really mean anything, of course, since the rest of your math was nonsense. But if you actually followed your nonsense math through to conclusion, you'd discover that you were actually demonstrating yourself to be wrong.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JustinAlexander View Post
    The human body has 50 trillion cells. And each of them contains our full DNA sequence. So if you give me 1/9-trillionth of the DNA in my body you would have 5x the material found in a full sequence.
    I wasn't demonstrating myself to be wrong. I was demonstrating the math of half-lives.

    So, let's look at what you mention more closely. If you're at 65 million years, 5x the information of your genetic material remains. if you're from 66.5 million years ago, your body has only 2.5 the material. By 68 million years ago, only 1.25. By 70 million years, you've got less than what's necessary.

    And that's assuming the archaeologist can get at *all* the material that was your body. We were talking about the half-life of the genetic material - how much of it breaks down just as time passes. But that's not the only thing going on. We haven't yet discussed what else happens to your body after you died - like predators and microbes eating it, or the fossilization process, which will generally destroy that information. 65 million years is a long time for bits of you to go wandering off. So, if you find a full dinosaur encased in amber, maybe there's a shot...

    Except, of course, the simple fact that the half-life isn't 1.5 million years. That was just demonstrative. The half-life is more on the order of 1000 years. So, instead of 40-some-odd half-lives, we are talking *thousands* of half-lives passing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by renau1g View Post
    Even preserved in amber, it deteriorates fully in 1.5 million years. Given that the last dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, bringing them back looks to be totally out of the question.
    On the bright side, mammoths are still a slim possibility.

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