Books: Your DNA's in the mosquito

Creating a modern dinosaur the 'Jurassic Park' way would be impossible, writes John Gribbin

The Science of Jurassic Park and the Lost World Or, How to Build a Dinosaur by Rob DeSalle and David Lindley, HarperCollins, pounds 12.99

Perfectly timed both for the launch of the second Jurassic Park movie and for the season of beach reading, The Science of Jurassic Park manages to be both entertaining and informative. It is also sufficiently up to date to include a brief mention of the cloning of Dolly the sheep, which makes it a good seven years more up to date than the science in the movies that are its raison d'etre.

Those movies, in case you have been in a coma during most of this decade, are based on the premise that it would be possible to reconstruct a dinosaur (indeed, several different species of dinosaur) from the DNA in dinosaur blood in the stomach of a mosquito that has been trapped in amber for tens of millions of years. This unauthorised look at the science that would be involved belies its subtitle by showing that it would not be possible to build a dinosaur in this way.

But that isn't the point; the point is to poke gentle fun at the excesses of the movie-makers, while doling out a lot of real science in an accessible, easily assimilated form.

The ironic tone of the book is all the more surprising because David Lindley, a science writer, has previously written a couple of rather po-faced books about physics. But, in company with Rob DeSalle, of the American Museum of Natural History, he now seems to have found his metier. We learn a little bit about evolution and the blow from space that probably killed the dinosaurs, and a great deal about genetic engineering, DNA fingerprinting, and cloning - all more or less painlessly.

The deadpan way in which the authors chide the movie-makers for including DNA sequences from ordinary, present-day species (rather than real dinosaurs) in the "scientific" descriptions in the movies is a delight, and I particularly enjoyed the analysis of the inadequacies of the islands on which the movies are based as homes for these creatures. The calculation of how many goats would be needed to feed the beasts, how they would be shipped to the island, and how much pasture the goats would need while waiting to be fed to the dinosaurs is reminiscent of the classic description of the mountaineering expedition in The Ascent of Rum Doodle, and leads to the conclusion that the ideal base for Jurassic Park would in fact be Martinique - but taking over "a French departement already occupied by the resort homes of millionaires" is, as the authors point out, not on the cards. "Islands are hard to come by these days."

This is a fun, but informative, book, that will introduce a lot of people to some real science. But don't let it spoil your enjoyment of the movies, which operate on a different level. After all, your enjoyment of Superman does not depend on whether or not you really do believe that a man can fly.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week