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The Science of Jurassic World

03.06.2015 by Edulab

The Science of Jurassic World

In just a week, Jurassic World will be reaching cinema screens in the UK; twenty-two years after the release of the first Jurassic Park film. Naturally, everybody is still dinosaur-mad – after all, there’s something essentially enthralling about the idea of these giants which once roamed the Earth – and the idea that we might be able to see them again.

But how accurate is the Jurassic Park film series, really? Well, you may be surprised!

Six Foot Turkeys?

The stars of Jurassic Park were, of course, the velociraptors (although Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill and Laura Dern were involved too, apparently). Their portrayal in Jurassic Park has had mixed reviews from scientists; they got some things right, and some things wrong.

The way the velociraptor uses its tail for balance when it leaps onto the suspended skeleton in the lobby at the end? That, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley, was right. They combined a computer-modelled velociraptor with studies of modern lizards to establish how they would move.

And when the boy at the beginning called them six foot turkeys, he may not have been far wrong. In 1993, when the film was made, we all assumed dinosaurs were scaly, but a velociraptor’s fossilised fore-arm, found in 1998, showed the marks of feathers, so they would have looked quite different. (The velociraptors remain scaly in the new film for the sake of consistency with the earlier instalments – scientific inaccuracy notwithstanding.)

Also wrong? Their presence in the park in the first place – velociraptors thrived in the Cretaceous period, not the Jurassic!

Velociraptor - iStock_000056300618_Medium

Should You Run Away from T. Rex?

In Jurassic Park, Tyrannosaurus Rex chases a speeding jeep as Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) advises the driver that he “Must go faster.” Some scientists at the time questioned the accuracy of the scene – they weren’t even sure whether T. Rex could run at all.

Well, should you find yourself confronted by an angry T. Rex, you should hope that you do have a car – running won’t help you much. By feeding details of the muscular and skeletal structure of T. Rex into a supercomputer, scientists were able to calculate a running speed of around 18mph for the monster. Usain Bolt, with a top speed of 27mph, could escape – but the average fit person will only clock around 15mph, and would therefore quickly become a dino-snack.

T Rex

Dino DNA

So, the big question is – could it happen? Could we really use DNA to revive dinosaurs?

Sadly – or perhaps fortunately, given the events of the films - the short answer is probably no.

In Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs were recreated by extracting DNA from mosquitoes trapped in amber; but when scientists at the University of Manchester attempted to extract DNA from insects trapped in copal, a precursor to amber, they found that they were unable to detect any DNA at all.

This may not mean that it’s forever impossible, however, as today we are able to detect DNA from far smaller samples than was possible just a few years ago, so who knows what future developments may bring?

Alternatively, we may be able to recreate dinosaurs through reverse genetic engineering, as shown in the new film – something which some scientists say is more plausible.

For now, dinosaurs remain firmly in the cinema and the museum. However, their popularity still makes them an excellent tool for scientific education – whether that’s learning about DNA, muscular structure, or the examination fossils. At Edulab, we provide a wide range of educational materials, laboratory equipment and more, making it easy for you to engage science students of all ages. For more information, contact us today.