Dinosaur DNA cannot be extracted from amber

Well, it looks like we may never have our own Jurassic Park. Scientists at the University of Manchester failed to pull DNA samples from insects trapped in 10,600 year-old amber, leading them to conclude that the chances of extracting intact DNA from samples millions of years older is likely impossible.

For those living in a paleolithic-era cave, the dinosaurs in Spielberg's 1993 classic, Jurassic Park, were spawned from DNA samples taken from amber-trapped ancient insects engorged with dinosaur blood. It's a fascinating idea, but unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on your opinion of dinosaurs — it's probably not gonna happen.

In the new study, David Penney and colleagues tried to extract DNA from insects in subfossilized copal, the hardened resin from trees that's a precursor to amber. But they couldn't do it; they weren't able to detect an ancient DNA in samples ranging in age from 60 to 10,10,600 years old.

The researchers used stingless bees encased in copal to try and detect DNA sequences from the insects.

Interestingly, in the youngest specimens, they were able to match some isolated sequences of just over 500 nucleotides — the molecular building blocks of DNA. But they were unsuccessful in matching the isolated sequences to genes from modern stingless bees.

"Intuitively, one might imagine that the complete and rapid engulfment in resin, resulting in almost instantaneous demise, might promote the preservation of DNA in a resin entombed insect, but this appears not to be the case," noted Penney to The Telegraph, "So, unfortunately, the Jurassic Park scenario must remain in the realms of fiction."

This is all a bit of a moot point, by the way. Late last year scientists were able to peg the half-life of DNA at 521 years, meaning that, under ideal conditions, every last piece of DNA would be gone by 6.8 million years, and there would only be enough to be readable at around 1.5 million years. The dinos went dodo about 65 million years ago.

Read the entire study at PLOS One: "Absence of Ancient DNA in Sub-Fossil Insect Inclusions Preserved in ‘Anthropocene’ Colombian Copal."

Image: David Penney, University of Manchester.