Of culture and dinosaurs…

I’m reading a book interestingly titled “How to take over the world”, by Ryan North. I know it sounds a bit off, but it really has workable strategies to take over the world:))

Provided everything suggested falls into place that is.

Nevertheless, the reason I mentioned the book was because of a bizarre, yet practical approach to err…bringing back a dinasaur.

The issue is that we do not have any prehistoric dinosaur DNA, there doesn’t seem to be any hope of seeing even a fragment of prehistoric dinosaur DNA, and our best understanding says that all prehistoric dinosaur DNA disappeared from the entire universe more than 60 million years before our early ancestors even started walking on two legs.

So how does one get this done?

The author reminds us that evolution is not as transformative as much as it an additive process – this is the reason why many animals look so similar, and why we can group them into families. Even when an animal seems to have lost a trait – our earlier ancestors had tails and we don’t – that doesn’t necessarily mean the genetic instructions for that trait were lost. They might just be suppressed. After all, when you were an embryo inside your mother’s womb, you briefly grew a tail—only to reabsorb it a few weeks later, when other genes activated that stopped and reversed that process.

So this is technically not genetic engineering – it is what the author calls bespoke embryonic development.

In fact there are actual studies that build on this theory and have singled out the common chicken as the best candidate for rebuilding a dinosaur. By timing the activation and suppression of genes at specific times, you could make a chicken grow a tail, and teeth, and a snout, and arms, and even hands and claws.

Of course, the process in practice will be much more detailed and iterative and also dependent on enhanced technology that is not currently available to us. However – one question remains – will this now be a dinosaur?

Physically yes maybe. But there is more to animals, and us, than their DNA, and that is their culture. Animals teach their offspring the same things that their parents taught them when young – how to find or hunt food, communication calls and bird songs for instance. You can clone an animal, but you cannot bring back their culture. The is lost forever.

This is the truth in extinct animals, and this is the truth in extinct or near-extinct practices. Do spare a thought to what you pass on to your next generation ever so effortlessly – in the grand scheme of things, that is priceless.

See you tomorrow!