Science | History | Design & Technology

Jurassic giants emerge from US badlands

Will dinosaurs ever roam the earth again? They are our best-loved monsters. But could the discovery of their DNA be possible? Or could they one day be genetically engineered? Imagine meeting the largest animal ever to walk the Earth. Deep in a Jurassic jungle, the sauropod looms above you, 80 tonnes of long neck and long tail. Two of these giants have been found in the Jurassic Mile in Wyoming. From toys to books to film, we love dinosaurs. It’s an old obsession that began the day a 12-year-old girl discovered bones near her home. She was Mary Anning and she had found an ichthyosaur — an ancient marine reptile. She became a famous fossil hunter and sent her discoveries to expert William Buckland. In 1824, he named the first dinosaur: megalosaurus. Dinosaurs inspire scientists to ask big questions about life on Earth. And some want to bring them back. They will need DNA. In Jurassic Park, they find it preserved in amber. But in the real world, the oldest DNA found is from a mammoth. Scientist Jack Horner thinks there’s another way. He hopes to make a dinosaur from its living relatives: birds. He believes he can edit a chicken's genes to grow a long tail, teeth and even hands. Others think de-extinction is a bad idea. “Ethically messy, ecologically awkward and really expensive," says ecologist Douglas McCauley. We should look after living species rather than playing Dr Frankenstein with ancient DNA. Dinosaur expert Steve Brusatte says it “would be cruel”. The world was a different place 70 million years ago and they would not survive today. In the film Jurassic Park velociraptors are as big as a horse and covered in scales. The real thing was the size of a turkey and scientists now think they had feathers. “It’s important that people understand dinosaurs are still among us,” says expert Mark Norell. Birds are living dinosaurs.  But pigeons are not as exciting as a T.rex and people will keep dreaming of dinosaurs for years to come. Will dinosaurs ever roam the earth again? Lost world Yes: Dinosaurs make us dream big. Mary Anning could not imagine scientists would discover over 1,000 dinosaur species. So who knows what science will do in the future.

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