The 1993 film, based on a book by Michael Crichton, depicts a theme park island filled with dinosaurs, resurrected from ancient DNA extracted from fossilized mosquitoes trapped in amber. For a while, that science didn’t seem to be entirely fiction. In the early 1990s, several scientists announced they hadextracted DNA from insects fossilized in amber as long as 130 million years ago. Insects from this time in Earth’s history, the early Cretaceous period, would have flown among dinosaurs (including giant, long-necked sauropods, among the largest creatures ever on land) as well as creatures such as flying pterosaurs, swimming plesiosaurs, feathered birds, and mammals.
This Lebanese amber was until recently the oldest in the world, older than the more common Dominican amber, which formed around 16 million years ago and the 49-million-year-old amber of the Baltic. But last year, tiny mites were found for the first time in amber dating from the Triassic period—230 million years ago.
While the premise of the film—that dinosaur DNA could be extracted from the guts of a preserved mosquito that had recently dined on one—seems reasonable, the fragile nature of DNA and the huge expanse of time that has passed have led many experts to doubt claims to have extracted any DNA that old—including DNA from the insect itself.