The prestigious science journal Nature published [a] breathtaking new discovery [about the oldest DNA ever recovered] in June 1993, a single day before another momentous occasion: the release of Jurassic Park. It seemed like the perfect stroke of luck for famed director Steven Spielberg. The publicity came not from his studio’s $65 million promotional plan, but from real, legitimate scientists.
It was a prime example of how science and science fiction can collide in the real world—each can boost the other, and one realm can often nudge another in a different direction.
“A lot of science is trial and error and finding out what we don’t know,” [science historian Elizabeth] Jones says. “What makes ancient DNA and the story of Jurassic Park so interesting is that figuring out what ancient DNA could or couldn’t do wasn’t a private affair. Researchers were responding not just at their conferences and their peer review articles, but on a public platform.”
In other words, while the science might not have been right the first time around, it was still part of the exploration process. And for once, the public got a taste of what that debate looked like even as scientists were working out the finer details. So maybe ancient DNA can’t bring back the dinosaurs. But it still brings the tantalizing promise of resurrecting more recent animals—like, for instance, woolly mammoths.
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