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DNA Half-Life Measured, Suggests 'Jurassic Park' Dinosaur Scenario Would Never Work

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This undated handout photo provided by the journal Science shows feathers in a Canadian Late Cretaceous amber specimen.
This undated handout photo provided by the journal Science shows feathers in a Canadian Late Cretaceous amber specimen.

It seems the Discovery Channel may be the closest we'll ever get to walking with dinosaurs.

According to a study published Oct. 10 in "Proceedings of the Royal Society B," the natural degradation of DNA suggests our dinosaur-cloning fantasies will never become reality. As it turns out, the so-called half-life of DNA--the span of time it takes for half of the molecular bonds in the genetic material to break--is just 521 years. This means that even under ideal conditions, DNA wouldn't be "readable" after 1.5 million years, according to Nature.com.

The youngest dinosaur fossils ever found are about 65 million years old.

For the study, Morten Allentoft at the University of Copenhagen and Michael Bunce at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, analyzed 158 leg bones of extinct birds called moa. The bones all dated between 600 and 8,000 years of age. The results collected from each bone were averaged to arrive at the 521-year figure.

While the results of this study painted a clear picture of the degradation of DNA, according to Wired UK, they do not necessarily mean that the breakdown couldn't potentially be slowed in other conditions. But resurrecting dinosaurs using DNA pulled from mosquitos trapped in amber--the "Jurassic Park" scenario--is more than unlikely.

“This confirms the widely held suspicion that claims of DNA from dinosaurs and ancient insects trapped in amber are incorrect,” Simon Ho, a computational evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia, told Nature.

These findings might also dash the dreams of those who hope to clone a woolly mammoth, which became fully extinct no later than 1,700 BCE. Earlier in the month, a small mammoth carcass was found in Siberia, but conditions of extreme cold make it an extremely unlikely candidate for cloning, according to the Associated Press, despite the fact that it was the best-preserved sample found in more than a century.

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