Jack Horner is the paleontologist that inspired Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" character Alan Grant, and Horner believes he can create a dinosaur within five to 10 years.
But not exactly like they did in the movie.
Previous attempts to extract dinosaur DNA in the 1990s were unsuccessful, Horner told Business Insider. DNA starts coming apart as soon as a cell dies, Horner said, and intact dinosaur DNA has never been found. "If you did the thing they did in 'Jurassic Park,'" Horner said (referring to the movie's solution of filling in DNA gaps with frog DNA), "you'd basically have a frog."
Horner has had 20 years to work on a new solution, and it involves birds.
Birds are direct descendants of avian dinosaurs, according to Dino Buzz. Dinosaur birds, like the turkey-sized velociraptor, had feathers, like modern birds. Scientists have even discovered a 3-D fossil of a dino-bird that shows tail feather detail (click here to read HNGN's article on the prehistoric discovery). Over time, snouts turned into beaks, tails disappeared and wings evolved into modern wings of flight, but the DNA that existed previously in the snout-bearing, tail-wearing bird didn't disappear - it just became inactive, according to Business Insider.
If the newer genes can be suppressed and the atavistic genes could be expressed, Horner thinks a dinosaur could be possible. His first attempt, he said during a TED Talk, will be the chicken, giving us a "chickenosaurus" or "dino-chicken."
Imagine: a small, feathered creature with a tail for balance, small arms with claws and a tooth-filled snout. (Or maybe don't imagine it - at least not before bedtime).
Horner has been talking about dinosaurs as pets for years. His book "How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever" was released in 2009. Although, Horner isn't the only one trying to turn back the clock. Researchers at Yale University said they have discovered a way to turn bird beaks into bird snouts (to read HNGN's coverage of that study, click here). Horner called the beak study "proof of concept" that reverse engineering could be the answer.
Horner pointed out other examples of genetic engineering, like using jellyfish genes to make glow-in-the-dark rabbits or mice with transparent skin. Once the genetic code for a specific trait is known, that code could be used to create a living being. Another example? "We could probably get to a unicorn before we get to a dino-chicken," Horner said.
In addition to the cool factor of growing dinosaurs, medical technology could benefit from new methods of growing vertebrae and neural tissue. Besides, Horner said, "if we can make a dino-chicken, it's pretty cool," and kids might get interested in genetics.
What about the idea that genetic engineering is "playing God?" Horner pointed out that genetic modification has been going on for thousands of years - it's called "breeding."
"People made chihuahuas out of wolves, for God's sake," Horner said.