Mr DNA

The Festival is over, and we’re in chillout mode. And what better way to relax than with a mad dinosaur movie romp? Jurassic World: A complex and multi-layered story about the dangers of playing god, full of deep scientific metaphors? Or just an excuse for some popcorn and dinosaurs? 

The Jurassic Park franchise hit the big screen again – did 20 years of genetic innovation change the scope of fictional dinosaur genetics?

1993 was a huge year for pop-culture. Bill Clinton was inaugurated as 42nd US President, Boris Yeltsin was elected to lead Russia, and the Florida Marlins had their first season in the MLB. Oh, we also had one of the biggest science fiction phenomena of all time – Jurassic Park.

If you’re in that 20- 30’s bracket, you’ll likely remember the magical experience of seeing dinosaurs come to life on the big screen for the first time. For many of us, that encounter with Mr. DNA brought genetics to our attention for the first time in any meaningful way. It certainly set the standard against which all future cinematic mentions of genetics would be measured.

Now in 2015, dreams came true as we awaited the sequel that Jurassic Park deserves – Jurassic World. So how has the world moved on since Jurassic Park? The geo-political arena is pretty different in many ways, and the Florida Marlins won the World Series twice before rebranding to the Miami Marlins. But perhaps the biggest changes have been in genetic technology. The Human Genome Project has been completed, we’re sequencing everything and everyone we can get our hands on, and we’re fast approaching the age of human genome editing.

With that in mind, all eyes were on Jurassic World to see how much of that would make it into movie science. Turning back the evolutionary clock isn’t quite so far fetched anymore. Indeed, Jack Horner himself is talking about reverseevolving chickens into something close to a dinosaur – not to mention George Church’s work on woolly mammoths with CRISPR. We’re also very much in the GMO-era, where it’s possible to add in genes that code for very specific traits.

What we don’t have, at the moment, is nearly enough understanding of how complex traits are governed. What we do know, is that many of the mechanisms described in Jurassic World are likely to be under the control of quite complicated networks. Fitting them all into an Indominus rex, across evolutionary barriers, would certainly be a pretty impressive feat.

So how have the last 20 years worth of genetic innovation translated into movie genetics? Pretty ridiculously, but at least the grounds of cinematic imagination are developing at a proportionate pace to what’s actually plausible. Indominus rex only exists as a concept because of the real science being worked on today.

This opens up a wider question about the role that science fiction plays. It is fiction after all. But it does help to introduce scientific ideas and concepts to a mass audience, and even takes some of those ideas and runs with them in exciting directions. Science fiction is there to help inspire and ask difficult questions, however clumsy the execution might seem!

Verdict? Decent

Pros:

  • Mr DNA makes a cameo appearance
  • Dr Henry Wu is back
  • It’s genuinely a lot of fun

Cons:

  • Geneticists are bad guys again!
  • Gets just a little too ridiculous at times
  • Doesn’t have any iconic moments of suspense

More on these topics