Thursday, November 15, 2012

Waking the Sleeping Dinosaurs

Dr. Steve (left), Dr. Indiana (center) and Dr. Samuel (right) admiring a fossil bone of an Edmontosaurus

My trusty junior photographer, Daniel P. Smithwater and I both got a kick out of this next story. Dr. Steve Stevenson PhD at Animal Adventures Institute (AAI) is back to his cloning projects. His latest attempt is to clone the extinct creatures brought back from the Adamson’s trip. Dr. Samuel and Indiana Adamson PhD are two married paleontologists who have worked in just about every corner of the world. Recently, their trips to western North America, Russia, and Europe have revealed the fossils of numerous extinct creatures. “I have cloned quite a few other extinct animals, including dinosaurs,” Dr. Steve says. “I can’t wait to get started once again.” The animals brought back from the fossil digs are a large hadrosaur or duckbilled dinosaur called Edmontosaurus, a small pachycephalesaur or bone-headed dinosaur called Dracorex, a large pterosaur or flying reptile called Hatzegopteryx, a sharp-toothed gorgonopsid called Inostrancevia and a turtle-like reptile called Scutosaurus. Dr. Samuel Adamson believes these fossils hold proteins inside them, and proteins could contain DNA, and if we have DNA, then it is possible to clone the dinosaur or other extinct animal. “These fossils weren’t preserved in the best preservation state,” Dr. Samuel says, “but they could be a lot worse. At least we can tell what they are. Some fossils we have dug up in the past are in a terrible state and we can’t give the slightest clue of what it is.” The fossil bones are taken out of the ground and then shipped by helicopter back to Animal Adventures Institute in Riverville, New York. That is when Dr. Steve comes in. He then examines the bones and takes a very thin slice of each species and looks at them under the microscope to see if they are viable for cloning. If they are then he takes the slice, makes a mold for it so it can be put back on the original fossils and then he must extract the DNA out of the bones by using a super computer. Dr. Steve shares the rest of the cloning process, “After the DNA is out of the bone and the computer is finished working on it . . . well, I’m not sure how much you know about genes and DNA, but fossil DNA is not complete. It’s full of fragments. This is what has caused scientists trouble for years!” Dr. Steve has had a rich history when it comes to his cloning experience. In the 1990’s, Dr. Steve was one of the first scientists to help with cloning dinosaurs. He was cloning dinosaurs for a type of zoo called Cretaceous Park and they experienced the DNA gap issues. The head geneist (a gene and DNA scientist) at the time was Dr. Lora Sorkin (contrary to popular belief, she was not killed by a prehistoric creature as everyone believes). She suggested that the park take some time and figure out how to get the full DNA sequence. But the board of directors didn’t want to take that kind of time, so she was “kicked” out of the lab and sent to do field research. Dr. Henri Wu was the replacement chief geneist. He was hired to be chief geneist because he was able to figure out that you could fill the DNA gaps with frog DNA and get the job done quickly. Nowadays though, Dr. Steve had figured out how to fill in those gaps without frog DNA (which can produce some strange dinosaurs). He instead just uses dinosaur DNA from multiple fossil samples of the same species to complete the sequence. “We don’t know yet which of the fossils yield DNA,” says Dr. Steve, “but we also have what I call a ‘fossil storage’ out back where we’ve put all our unidentified bones from previous digs and there’s some pretty cool stuff in there.” What wonders will Steve clone? We’ll just have to wait and see . . .

Written by: Mr. Smiley
Photographed by: Daniel P. Smithwater
Edited by: Christian Ryan

PS: For more on the story of Dr. Lora Sorkin and Dr. Henri Wu, please visit this link, this link and this link.

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