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Chickens are modern dinosaurs. . .

This is a note to a student from Learning Outpost’s science tutor, Dan Wellehan.

Hi Pam and Cade,

I am shocked and saddened. I thought you two should be the first to know. I should have connected the dots long ago, as I’ve known the facts individually for quite some time.

You see, I might not be destined to rise again from the fossil record in a post-human-extinction distant future, resurrected by 6-foot tall cockroaches in lab coats, and populate my own little island of “Anthropocene Park” (or whatever the future-cockroaches will call the attraction in their native tongue. Actually, my money would be on ants or wasps. And in the dinosaur’s time, who would have bet on little rat beasts coming up to dominate life on Earth? But I digress.) In Jurassic Park, as we all know, geneticists and paleontologists tag team the effort to extract dinosaur DNA from the red blood cells in a fat mosquito encased in amber. My own little genetic time capsule, stashed away over 20 years ago in a fat mama mosquito on a spruce tree in the Bigelow Mountains (not too far from the hut by the way!), should be ready for show time whenever the big bugs get here. But I was just watching (for perhaps the 10th time) this great TED talk by paleontologist Jack Horner about his dino DNA hunt, and as he was saying something completely unrelated to me (in fact the entirety of his talk was not related to me), a light bulb went off in my head. You should watch the talk Cade. And yes, though I’m not assigning it to you Pam, it is, in my opinion, well worth watching.

chicks 2
So Horner plainly states one seemingly insurmountable problem in his quest (not to be confused with Michael Crichton’s plot). That is your first homework question: Specifically why has this guy and his team failed to resurrect a Tyrannosaur?

(Now… I am sending you this Sunday afternoon. When is this homework due? I don’t know. BUT I do want to see a completed genetics exam Monday so that we can wrap up that unit and focus on evolution. Genetics will of course inform our study of evolution, but I do not want you (and me) to be further distracted by a bio exam that’s hanging over your head. Slay the beast. Then let’s move on to some fun stuff. And, that first question should land on your lap over the course of the 16 and a half minutes, so it’s not arduous work, but interesting science… according to me.)chicks 1
New more powerful tools are developed, and so one could optimistically suppose that we can eventually find a way around the seemingly insurmountable challenge he highlights with his Tyrannosaur. But even assuming that best case scenario, a second problem with my own brilliant plan deals a near fatal blow. So even if Horner’s team (well, team future-bugs) develop better lab techniques, the odds of my genetic comeback in a distant future just got 1000 times less likely. (Okay, fine: I acknowledge the odds My second question looks further down the road. Inevitably lab techniques improve. weren’t super amazing to begin with, and perhaps, considering the staggeringly slim possibility, with my success at the whim of future bug-society paleontologists, this doesn’t significantly change the odds. But at least I have some plan, right? Albeit, a plan that seems 1/1000 as robust as it did yesterday. (I would like to write here how sad that makes me feel, but then I might sound eerily similar to our president. SAD!) So your second homework question is: What about my (or your) biology makes the Anthropocene Park plan virtually impossible, even if the Jurassic Park plan worked out all the kinks for dinosaurs?

The answer is not obvious. But happily, you do not need to sneak into the Restricted Section of the library to find the answer. It is yours to discover, and just as “What is Fluffy guarding?” took some time to answer, this likely will too. See if you can crack the mystery.

And lastly, for what it’s worth, while Michael Crichton is a fascinating sci-fi author, he has for many years spewed some wildly unscientific “alternative facts” in his personal life. Good writer. Bad policy advocate.

See you Monday with the genetics exam done. And then… Inner Fish? Magic of Reality? This TED Talk or others of Dawkins? We can pick up the conversation in whatever order you choose.

Hasta maƱana,

Dan

PS: A third baby dinosaur just hatched today! So cute…