The VICE Channels

    Turns Out Amber Doesn't Hold Our Dinosaur Dreams

    Written by

    Jason Koebler

    Staff Writer

    Photo: Wikipedia

    Just in time for the "Jurassic World" announcement comes news every fanboy has long dreaded to hear: Amber doesn't successfully hold DNA.

    Previous studies have suggested that DNA's half life is only about 521 years, meaning every bit of DNA would be gone after 6.8 million years—that'd mean making dinosaurs out of blood extracted from an amber-preserved mosquito would be impossible. But that study only looked at the half life of DNA—the question of whether amber successfully preserves insects has intrigued scientists long enough that researchers at England's University of Manchester decided to settle the debate once and for all. 

    Unfortunately, it doesn't. Using the most advanced DNA sequencing techniques, the team was unable to extract any DNA from resin-preserved insects. In fact, resins such as amber may be worse at preserving DNA than air-drying methods at museums. Scientists have previously been able to extract DNA from museum-preserved specimens from as far back as 1820.

    "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," said David Penney, one of the authors of the study. "Unfortunately, the Jurassic Park scenario must remain in the realms of fiction."

    To test whether resins could preserve DNA, they set to work on two species of stingless bees that were preserved in copal, a precursor of amber that is millions of years younger. Penney and his team thought copal-preserved insects would be a good place to look for DNA due to the material's ability for "preserving insects with life-like fidelity."

    For paleontologists, copal isn't of much interest: Some of the specimens Penney's team tested were just 60 years old (others were roughly 10,600 years old). But for modern biologists and entomologists, it's an ideal host: Some specimens of copal-preserved insects have never been seen alive and represent the "only source of genetic information for these extinct and extant but elusive species."

    Unfortunately, none of it worked.

    "We were unable to obtain any convincing evidence for the preservation of endogenous DNA in either of the two copal inclusions that we studied," the authors wrote. "Our inability to detect DNA in copal specimens, despite using sensitive next generation methods, suggest that there is no protected environment in this type of material, and that DNA survival in resin inclusions is no better, and perhaps worse, than that in air-dried museum insects."

    Time to start working on another method of bringing back the dinosaurs. Let's see if Jurassic World gives us any new ideas.