Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Dino-Chicken: Wacky But Serious Science Idea of 2011

Paleontologist Jack Horner has always been a bit of an iconoclast. In the 1970s, Horner, the curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., and his friend Bob Makela discovered a Maiasaura nesting site, painting the first picture of dinosaurs as doting moms and dads. He's also been at the forefront of research suggesting that dinosaurs were fast growing and warm-blooded.

But Horner's newest idea takes iconoclasm to a new level. He wants, in short, to hatch a dinosaur.

Or something very much like one, at least. Horner, who served as a technical advisor for the "Jurassic Park" movies, has no illusions that the technique in that movie — extracting dino DNA from mosquitoes in amber — would work. DNA degrades too quickly, for one thing. Dinosaur DNA has proved impossible to extract from actual dinosaur bones, never mind blood-sucking insects.

"If you actually had a piece of amber and it had an insect in it, and you drilled into it, and you got something out of that insect and you cloned it, and you did it over and over and over again, you'd have a room full of mosquitoes," Horner said in a February 2011 TED Talk in Long Beach, Calif. TED, or Technology, Entertainment and Design, is a nonprofit focusing on "ideas worth spreading."

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