DNA half-life: Is that knowledge limiting or Freeing?

I write science fiction. That means that I have to have a certain healthy appreciation for science.  I keep an eye out for intriguing discoveries and interesting twists.  One that caught my attention recently was the determination of the half-life of DNA.

The discovery in itself is amazing. I love that there are people out there whose jobs are to figure out how long genetic material can last.  The coverage of the discovery irks me.  Much of the press amounts to “Well, that means Jurassic Park isn’t possible after all.”

Really? Really?

I’m bugged by this on a few different levels, but let me dig right to the heart of it. Would those scientists have tried to discover the half-life of DNA if it weren’t for the fiction created by Michael Crichton?

I like to see knowledge like this as freeing – that we can learn more about genetics, and maybe bring back crazy badass animals like the thylacine, or the great auk. If we stretch that limit and find the last known dodo genetics, maybe we could even bring one of those back.

But the coverage is instead, limiting. Disproving a modern myth built around speculative fiction. Crichton dared to ask “what if…” and this amazing discovery is framed as a way to prove his conjecture wrong.

Sci-fi is responsible for a lot of modern culture. That smartphone you take for granted is the brainchild of someone working for Gene Roddenberry who conceived of the tricorder.

What extinct animal would you bring back?

What “what if” question would you like scientists to discover the truth of?


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