In a breakthrough recalling "Jurassic Park," scientists extracted genetic material from an insect that lived when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
The extinct insect, a weevil some 120 million to 135 million years old, was well-preserved because it had gotten mired in tree resin that hardened into amber.The genetic material is at least 80 million years older than any used in previously reported studies, researchers said Thursday.
In "Jurassic Park," scientists extract dinosaur genetic material from an insect and go on to clone a dinosaur.
But the newly reported genetic material is from the insect itself, rather than an insect's meal of dinosaur blood. And it's just two bits of one gene, not enough to create the insect, even if such cloning were possible.
The weevil was found in Lebanon in the oldest known amber deposits to contain insects.
"I never expected to get DNA from this weevil" because it was so old, said researcher Raul Cano of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "But when we looked at the tissue, there was a lot of tissue there. So we were willing to take a chance."
He reported the study in the journal Nature with a colleague at his university and scientists the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, American University of Beirut in Lebanon and the University of California at Berkeley.
Among the other researchers on the study was George O. Poinar of UC-Berkeley. His earlier work in the field was acknowledged in Michael Crichton's novel "Jurassic Park," on which the film is based.
Henry Gee, an assistant editor of Nature, said the fact his journal published the latest study just before the opening of the movie was simply a coincidence.
Genes are made up of chemical sequences, and researchers were able to determine the sequences of two bits of the weevil gene.
The report is "amazing and a great achievement," said Ward Wheeler of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, co-author of a recent study of genes from a termite some 25 million to 30 million years old.
The record may not stand for long. Brian Farrell of the University of Colorado at Boulder said he had "preliminary positive results" in getting a genetic sequence from the scales of fish some 180 million to 210 million years old.