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Can you really get dinosaur DNA out of mosquitoes in amber?

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asked Nov 13, 2015 in Science and Nature by anonymous
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Mosquito in Amber

In the early 1990s, it was discovered that it was possible to extract DNA samples from ancient specimens preserved in amber. This development was huge in the world of science, and served as the scientific basis for the Jurassic Park novels and films. Unfortunately, the extent of the breakthrough was greatly exaggerated in the books and movies. Scientists were only able to extract DNA fragments, and these were from the actual insect, not dinosaurs that the insect fed upon. [1] 

 

DNA degrades over time, even when it is preserved in amber. Any amount of DNA extracted has huge gaps in its code, and unlike fiction, these gaps cannot just be filled in with any other DNA. To make things even more difficult, DNA does not come labeled. With no modern genetic code to compare it to, scientists would have no way of knowing for sure if the DNA sequence fragment they were looking at came from a T-Rex, a frog, or any other species. Additionally, extracting pure dinosaur DNA would be nearly impossible, as you would need to pierce the abdomen of the insect, inevitably mixing insect DNA with the dinosaur DNA inside. [2]

References:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_DNA

2. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/diapsids/buzz/popular.html

answered Nov 14, 2015 by GnomyRose (1,660 points)
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No, you can't. 

 

While it is possible to extract DNA fragments and other information from insects and other creatures trapped in amber, dinosaurs escape extraction for one very important reason.

 

The mosquitoes in amber and dinosaurs did not exist at the same time.

 

The average age of amber is about 25 million years, meaning mosquitoes existed around the Miocene period, a time marked by the rise of the mammals. Hence whatever blood these mosquitoes sucked must have been from mammals of the time period: early versions of bears, beavers, camels, sloths, etc.

 

Miocene wildlife -- no dinos to be seen.

 

By the time the Miocene rolled around dinosaurs had already been exciting for about 40 million years. Some amber is even 40 million years old, but even so there is a gap of 20 million years between the existence of mosquitoes and dinosaurs.

 

While it is possible that a type of mosquitoes and amber already existed, there are no mosquitoes in amber of that age and time-period that we know of.

 

Secondly there is DNA fragmentation. Even whatever DNA fragments have been found in younger amber have so badly deteriorated over time, it is nigh impossible to tell what creatures they came from.

 

Hence dino DNA out of mosquito in amber is one of those pseudo-science facts that only Hollywood can make real.

 

answered Dec 23, 2015 by AlecCorday (5,810 points)
edited Dec 23, 2015 by AlecCorday

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