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‘We could probably build Jurassic Park,’ says co-founder of Elon Musk’s Neuralink

Max Hodak says it could try to ‘generate novel diversity’ but the task has puzzled scientists for years

Adam Smith
Thursday 08 April 2021 20:00
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Co-founder of Elon Musk's firm Neuralink says building a real-life 'Jurassic Park' is possible

Neuralink co-founder Max Hodak, who started the brain-computer interface company with Elon Musk, has claimed that humans have the technology to recreate Jurassic Park.

“We could probably build jurassic park if we wanted to. wouldn’t be genetically authentic dinosaurs but [shrug]”, Hodak tweeted. “Maybe 15 years of breeding + engineering to get super exotic novel species”.

It is unclear who Hodak is referring to when he says “we”. Neuralink has demonstrated a chip implanted into the brain of a pig and a monkey, but does not appear to have made any announcements with regards to animal cloning.

If Hodak is referring to scientists and genetic researchers as a whole, the prospect becomes more feasible – although is undeniably difficult.

Scientists have cloned a number of animals, including wolves, dogs, cats, monkeys and, famously, sheep. A black-footed ferret, which is on the US endangered species list, has also been cloned, but scientists have not managed to create an extinct animal yet.

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“Biodiversity (antifragility) is definitely valuable; conservation is important and makes sense. But why do we stop there? Why don’t we more intentionally try to generate novel diversity?” Hodak also tweeted.

The challenge in creating genetically authentic dinosaurs is due to the fact that soft material which would contain DNA is hard to preserve.

“We do have mosquitos and biting flies from the time of the dinosaurs and they do preserve in amber. But when amber preserves things, it tends to preserve the husk, not the soft tissues. So you don’t get blood preserved inside mosquitos in amber”, Dr Susie Maidment, a dinosaur researcher at the Natural History Museum, has said.

It is possible that a small insect, such as a mosquito or fly, could be used to extract DNA but even in the unlikely event that blood or soft tissue is found that is no guarantee of the necessary genetic material needed for cloning.

Breeding and engineering, as Hodak suggests, is a possibility – albeit one that relies on a much greater understanding of the genome. In the film Jurassic Park, they used DNA from a frog to replicate a reptile, but scientists do not currently know where the holes are in an animal’s genome if the animal no longer exists.

“A genome is the complete set of DNA of a living thing. Without the full genome, it would be impossible to tell which parts of the DNA have been found and therefore impossible to fill the gaps to build a whole animal,” Dr Maidment said.

“But if you did have the whole genome and you were going to fill the holes in fragments, then you definitely wouldn’t do it with frogs, because frogs are amphibians. If you were going to do it, you’d use bird DNA, because birds are dinosaurs. Or you might do it with crocodile DNA, because they share a common ancestor.”

Scientists are attempting to bring back similar species that have gone extinct, such as cloning a “proxy” species of mammoth from an Asian elephant where there is a large amount of DNA material available. Even then, however, the process might not be the optimum way to conserve nature.

“If it works, de-extinction will only target a few species and it’s very expensive. Will it divert conservation dollars from true conservation measures that already work, which are already short of funds?” posed David Ehrenfeld, professor of biology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to The Independent in 2015.

“At this moment brave conservationists are already risking their lives to protect dwindling groups of African forest elephants from heavily-armed poachers, and here we are talking about bringing back the woolly mammoth. Think about it.”

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