June 3, 2016
The movie Jurassic Park made it look easy, and headline making bogus research and hoaxes have fooled many people into thinking they’ve almost done it … or maybe have in secret … but the truth is different than people realize. In fact, I expect some people will be so angry at this article, I may have to block some people.
I think where I will start are the bogus research findings and hoaxes that had me going in the wrong direction until I got deeper into the subject.
(Oh, and by way, I was one of the first researchers to expose that they were already cloning people. I was doing that back perhaps in 1991. My Deeper Insights book gives a step by step procedure to do it. It is relatively easy to clone good genetic material. More on this later.)
What has made the bogus research and hoaxes believable was that most of us know little about DNA and how it falls apart quickly and how extensive contamination from other DNA is mixed in within any sample. More on this later.
Bogus Research and Hoaxes
There was a realistic-looking news story on the Internet with the headline “British Scientists Clone Dinosaur.” The article has a realistic photo of the cloned baby Apastosaurus, who was supposedly nicknamed “Spot.” The picture of Spot looks similar to the baby in David Lynch’s classic film Eraserhead. The dinosaur was supposedly incubated at the John Moore University College of Veterinary Medicine, in Liverpool.
This is a totally bogus story, a hoax. The magazines Nature and Science come across as scientific, but a combination of poor scientific research and the desire to increase their readership meant that readers were fooled with a series of articles beginning in 1990 claiming that scientists had sequenced ancient DNA. So let’s review some of the plethora of bogus findings we were given in article after article.
In 1990, 17-million-year-old DNA was supposedly sequenced from a Magnolia latahensis leaf. (Actually what they sequenced was modern bacteria in their fossil sample.)
In 1992, Science magazine, ran a series of papers that announced that a researcher had taken ancient DNA of several species from hard amber resin, for instance, a 30-million-year-old termite found in Dominican amber. (Remember, the Hollywood film Jurassic Park’s storyline was that dinosaur DNA was found in a mosquito trapped in amber and then cloned.)
In 1993, these kinds of articles continued. Supposedly California Polytechnic Univ. at San Luis Obispo got DNA from a 135-million-year-old weevil found in Lebanese amber, as well as DNA from a 35-million-year-old leaf. The scientist involved, Raul Cano, claimed to have found DNA from 1,200 organisms from amber including a number of ancient yeasts.
In 1994, Brigham Young Univ. published that they had found 80-million-year-old DNA from a dinosaur. Both Science and Nature magazines published this. Skeptical scientists that looked at the sequence they found saw it resembled modern human DNA. And that leads us to what was really happening.
In reality, DNA deteriorates very quickly (more on this later), and any sample is already contaminated with bacteria and airborne DNA. In all these cases, the researchers had found modern DNA from contamination. In fact, all ancient samples come with contaminating DNA … the ancient frozen man (named Oetzi) dug up in the Swiss Alps, who had been frozen since ancient times was full of all kinds of contaminating modern DNA from all kinds of sources.
The Life and Death of DNA
DNA molecules are extremely long sets of instructions that are 3.2 billion nucleotide pairs long! (If you had to write a book describing how to build a person in detail, your book might be even longer.) And since you get one set of instructions from your mother and one from your father, you have 6.4 billion nucleotide pairs written in code with what are called A, T, G & C nucleotides.
Before I began researching, I did not realize that the DNA molecules are fragile and constantly falling apart in the body’s cells and having to be constantly repaired! In an average person, about 10,000 C’s per day turn into another nucleotide called U and have to be stripped out and replaced. All these discarded U’s end up in our urine. There are many other ways the DNA gets damaged also. Enzymes are constantly repairing the DNA in your cell as it repeatedly breaks. A DNA molecule needs to be repaired hourly!!
When we die, the repair stops. The cell not only has enzymes that can repair, but enzymes that can cut DNA and attack DNA. It keeps these locked up and uses them when necessary like dealing with foreign DNA. But when a person dies, these enzymes are released from their locked compartments and ooze out further ripping apart the quickly deteriorating DNA. Within hours the DNA has been cut into small pieces. Bacteria begin feasting on the cells and erasing the stored DNA.
Water, which is ubiquitous in the human body, is needed for decomposition. If the body is quickly mummified (dried out quickly), some of the broken strands will survive in isolated spots. So some degraded DNA may survive in isolated spots in a mummified body — but let me emphasize here, it is not a DNA molecule that survives, but small snippets of DNA that can painstakingly be discovered if the researcher weeds out all the contagion and other DNA that will be found with and around the old DNA. (So the idea that Pharaoh has been cloned is just not realistic.)
Some of the processes to weed out the newer material are quite tedious, and sincere researchers may work hard for a long time to separate out and discover the small older DNA from a dead body. UV light destroys DNA. So many things help destroy DNA that it is quickly erased.
While ancient mammoths and ancient bones have cells that are recognizable under a microscope, the DNA in those cells has mostly been erased, and researchers can get at best only small snippets (a snippet of perhaps 100 pairs of code) if they are careful to remove contaminating DNAs, which is not an easy task.
What is Involved in Cloning
The problem with cloning is not just getting an entire set of DNA instructions (an entire genome of, say, 64 billion pairs), but of using that entire genome if it were possible to get it. Years of hard work on a dinosaur species might yield scattered and incomplete fragments of a particular dinosaur’s DNA, accounting for perhaps one or two percent of its entire genome.
Can you make a dinosaur from 1% of the instructions? No. Can you splice in modern DNA from a similar animal? No. Let’s say you had 5 words from a Bible manuscript — but did not have any Bible, none existed — would you know what the rest of the Bible said? No way!
Without knowing the code — you simply don’t know the code. The code for something else can’t just be attached to that 1%.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s say you did. Now somehow miraculously you have the billions of pairs of code correctly sequenced. Now what? An intact dinosaur genome, even if one miraculously was discovered, wouldn’t be enough, by itself, to clone a dinosaur. DNA can’t just be injected into anything, say, an unfertilized chicken egg, and then one watches for one’s Apatosaurus to hatch. Most vertebrates need to gestate in an extremely specific biological environment, and, at least for a short period of time, in a living body (even a fertilized chicken egg spends a day or two in the mother hen’s oviduct before it’s laid).
Artificial gestation involving human beings (in vitro fertilization) does not involve cloning or manipulation of genetic material, it just involves giving a bunch of sperm an individual egg, and then cultivating the resulting zygote in a test-tube for a couple of days, and then implanting the embryo-in-waiting into the mother’s uterus.
This simple process fails more often than succeeds. If we look at human reproduction, we see that most of the time an egg gets fertilized something goes wrong and the zygote is discarded naturally by the body. Reproduction is a tricky, complex process that succeeds only a small percentage of the time. If not, there would be many more unwed mothers.
Keeping It Short
My self-imposed criteria is to keep this relatively short and easy to understand. If people want a lengthy book-size discussion of the problems of discovering ancient DNA, I suggest Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, where a world-class DNA researcher with decades of experience discusses all the problems in detail and his disgust at all the false research that made headlines.
While DNA falls apart and its codes erased very quickly and easily, modern DNA from current species is quite usable. Researchers have the ability to splice and dice and join DNA, and are thinking about designer animals. Now that is a frightening reality. The monsters that they could create are not from the past, but from our present! And, unfortunately, they are working on these kind of projects.