Cambridge scientists aim to bioengineer little dinosaurs
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Cambridge scientists are aiming to ‘bioengineer’ real-life little dinosaurs that could help teach us more about the Jurassic era - and even carry out tasks such as collecting litter.
Biotechnology start-up company DinoDNA revealed the first details of the extraordinary project today after securing £25million in investment.
It follows what they described as “extremely promising trials” of the technology.
Many details of the pioneering scientific work have been kept under wraps, but the Cambridge Independent understands that it involves rebuilding genetic code from fragments of DNA found in fossilised remains.
The hope is that the mini dinosaurs could be allowed to roam in certain enclosed areas, safely interacting with the public.
Dr Jean Ome, chief scientific officer at DinoDNA, said: “It might sound like science fiction, but genetic engineering technology has advanced so rapidly that we are quietly confident our first dinosaurs will walk the Earth this summer.”
The researchers - working at an undisclosed laboratory in the city - are focused on bioengineering a dinosaur known as compsognathus.
It was one of the smallest known dinosaurs, although it can still reach the size of a turkey. It walked on two legs, ate invertebrates and lived in what is now Europe about 150 million years ago, during the Tithonian age of the late Jurassic period.
Two almost complete skeletons of it have been found, which are helping the scientists to rebuild the species, although the recreations will not be a 100 per cent genetic match.
CRISPR technology is being used to fill in tiny gaps in the DNA sequence and modify gene function where required.
“Safety is, of course, paramount and so we have chosen a species that is small and friendly,” said Dr Ome.
“It will enable a paradigm shift in our understanding of dinosaurs
“We also believe they will be intelligent animals and while it is very important that we do not exploit them, we do believe that they could be taught to carry out certain tasks, like collecting litter - or even picking up stray balls at a tennis club.”
The Jurassic Park-style idea of bringing dinosaurs back from the dead has been a dream of some scientists for years.
It was given credence by US paleontologist Jack Horner's 2009 book, How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever, in which he described a plan to recreate a dinosaur by genetically "nudging" the DNA of a chicken.
A spokesman for OneFour Investment Company, which led the DinoDNA funding round, told the Cambridge Independent: “Being honest, when we first heard about this work, we thought someone was having us on and had watched Jurassic Park once too often.
“But after seeing what they have already achieved, we were sold. It would be a dream to reawaken these magnificent creatures - at least, the small, friendly ones.”
When the first dinosaurs are engineered, there will be strict rules to make sure they cannot escape their compound. In future, special components in their feed could be used to encourage them to stay on a certain site.
“My dream is that one day you will be able to walk into Milton Country Park and spot one of our compsognathuses playing with families, or helping to do the recycling,” said Dr Ome.