Dinosaur DNA research in Middle East has Y professor wondering

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    By Angela Twining

    Scientists in the Middle East are elated and some in the United States are skeptical as pieces of Jordan amber are hoped to hold insects carrying dinosaur blood from 140 million years ago, according to the Associated Press.

    “”Jurassic Park” is at our doorsteps,” said Abbas Haddadin, a geologist from Jordan who has more than 10,000 pieces of hardened sap, “amber,” containing more than 100 types of insects that may be carrying the genetic characteristics of dinosaur DNA.

    But American scientists are a little more skeptical, including Michael Whiting, an assistant professor at BYU in the Zoology Department.

    “The probability of getting reliable DNA from something an insect fed on is far-fetched,” he said.

    Whiting said a venture like Haddadin”s would never be funded in the United States. Most likely any dinosaur DNA would have already been absorbed into the insect”s blood and therefore contaminated, he said.

    “From a scientific standpoint, it is such a shot in the dark to do it and do it well,” Whiting said.

    Dinosaurs lived from 65 to 250 million years ago, according to the American Museum of Natural History.

    Even if the amber does contain DNA, the chance is slim that scientists can create a whole dinosaur, said Josh Francis, 21, a sophomore from Bozeman, Mont., majoring in physics.

    “We”re limited by technology,” he said.

    Francis worked at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman for two-and-a-half years, where he gave tours in the dinosaur hall, cleaned bones and went on digs.

    He worked with Jack Horner, the scientist who the character Alan Grant was modeled after in “Jurassic Park.”

    He said there is a lot of dinosaur DNA available, but it is better used to classify dinosaurs or compare their similarities to birds and reptiles, not replicate them.

    Dinosaur bones that are not completely fossilized, like those found recently in Wyoming, contain dinosaur DNA, Francis said.

    “The biggest problem is we can get the DNA, but we can”t put the pieces together. There”s so much information there,” he said.

    Francis said even if Haddadin has his dinosaur DNA, it will be hard to tell what is what.

    The Associated Press reported that Haddadin continues to remain optimistic.

    “It”s true we may find nothing that could contribute to international research on dinosaurs, but what if we do get something from this amber?” Haddadin said. “I think the cause is worth a try.”

    Haddadin told the Associated Press he is focusing his studies on wasps and biting midges, similar to a gnat, because there is a possibility they are carrying dinosaur DNA.

    Whiting himself does research with ancient insect DNA, although never searching for remnants of dinosaur blood.

    The DNA sequencing center in the Widtsoe Building, where Whiting works, dissects the DNA of genes in order to discover the evolution of organisms and illnesses.

    The BYU Center is now working with gene DNA from fleas to investigate the origins of the bubonic plague. The center also works with frog, lizard and plant DNA.

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