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  • When I was growing up in Montana,

  • I had two dreams.

  • I wanted to be a paleontologist,

  • a dinosaur paleontologist,

  • and I wanted to have a pet dinosaur.

  • And so that's what I've been striving for

  • all of my life.

  • I was very fortunate

  • early in my career.

  • I was fortunate

  • in finding things.

  • I wasn't very good at reading things.

  • In fact, I don't read much of anything.

  • I am extremely dyslexic,

  • and so reading is the hardest thing I do.

  • But instead, I go out and I find things.

  • Then I just pick things up.

  • I basically practice for finding money on the street.

  • (Laughter)

  • And I wander about the hills,

  • and I have found a few things.

  • And I have been fortunate enough

  • to find things like the first eggs in the Western hemisphere

  • and the first baby dinosaurs in nests,

  • the first dinosaur embryos

  • and massive accumulations of bones.

  • And it happened to be at a time

  • when people were just starting to begin to realize

  • that dinosaurs weren't the big, stupid, green reptiles

  • that people had thought for so many years.

  • People were starting to get an idea

  • that dinosaurs were special.

  • And so, at that time,

  • I was able to make some interesting hypotheses

  • along with my colleagues.

  • We were able to actually say

  • that dinosaurs -- based on the evidence we had --

  • that dinosaurs built nests

  • and lived in colonies

  • and cared for their young,

  • brought food to their babies

  • and traveled in gigantic herds.

  • So it was pretty interesting stuff.

  • I have gone on to find more things

  • and discover that dinosaurs really were very social.

  • We have found a lot of evidence

  • that dinosaurs changed

  • from when they were juveniles to when they were adults.

  • The appearance of them would have been different --

  • which it is in all social animals.

  • In social groups of animals,

  • the juveniles always look different than the adults.

  • The adults can recognize the juveniles;

  • the juveniles can recognize the adults.

  • And so we're making a better picture

  • of what a dinosaur looks like.

  • And they didn't just all chase Jeeps around.

  • (Laughter)

  • But it is that social thing

  • that I guess attracted Michael Crichton.

  • And in his book, he talked about the social animals.

  • And then Steven Spielberg, of course,

  • depicts these dinosaurs

  • as being very social creatures.

  • The theme of this story is building a dinosaur,

  • and so we come to that part of "Jurassic Park."

  • Michael Crichton really was one of the first people

  • to talk about bringing dinosaurs back to life.

  • You all know the story, right.

  • I mean, I assume everyone here has seen "Jurassic Park."

  • If you want to make a dinosaur,

  • you go out, you find yourself a piece of petrified tree sap --

  • otherwise known as amber --

  • that has some blood-sucking insects in it,

  • good ones,

  • and you get your insect and you drill into it

  • and you suck out some DNA,

  • because obviously all insects that sucked blood in those days

  • sucked dinosaur DNA out.

  • And you take your DNA back to the laboratory

  • and you clone it.

  • And I guess you inject it into maybe an ostrich egg,

  • or something like that,

  • and then you wait,

  • and, lo and behold, out pops a little baby dinosaur.

  • And everybody's happy about that.

  • (Laughter)

  • And they're happy over and over again.

  • They keep doing it; they just keep making these things.

  • And then, then, then, and then ...

  • Then the dinosaurs, being social,

  • act out their socialness,

  • and they get together,

  • and they conspire.

  • And, of course, that's what makes Steven Spielberg's movie --

  • conspiring dinosaurs chasing people around.

  • So I assume everybody knows

  • that if you actually had a piece of amber and it had an insect in it,

  • and you drilled into it,

  • and you got something out of that insect,

  • and you cloned it, and you did it over and over and over again,

  • you'd have a room full of mosquitos.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • And probably a whole bunch of trees as well.

  • Now if you want dinosaur DNA,

  • I say go to the dinosaur.

  • So that's what we've done.

  • Back in 1993 when the movie came out,

  • we actually had a grant from the National Science Foundation

  • to attempt to extract DNA from a dinosaur,

  • and we chose the dinosaur on the left,

  • a Tyrannosaurus rex, which was a very nice specimen.

  • And one of my former doctoral students,

  • Dr. Mary Schweitzer,

  • actually had the background

  • to do this sort of thing.

  • And so she looked into the bone of this T. rex,

  • one of the thigh bones,

  • and she actually found

  • some very interesting structures in there.

  • They found these red circular-looking objects,

  • and they looked, for all the world,

  • like red blood cells.

  • And they're in

  • what appear to be the blood channels

  • that go through the bone.

  • And so she thought, well, what the heck.

  • So she sampled some material out of it.

  • Now it wasn't DNA; she didn't find DNA.

  • But she did find heme,

  • which is the biological foundation

  • of hemoglobin.

  • And that was really cool.

  • That was interesting.

  • That was -- here we have 65-million-year-old heme.

  • Well we tried and tried

  • and we couldn't really get anything else out of it.

  • So a few years went by,

  • and then we started the Hell Creek Project.

  • And the Hell Creek Project was this massive undertaking

  • to get as many dinosaurs as we could possibly find,

  • and hopefully find some dinosaurs

  • that had more material in them.

  • And out in eastern Montana

  • there's a lot of space, a lot of badlands,

  • and not very many people,

  • and so you can go out there and find a lot of stuff.

  • And we did find a lot of stuff.

  • We found a lot of Tyrannosaurs,

  • but we found one special Tyrannosaur,

  • and we called it B-rex.

  • And B-rex was found

  • under a thousand cubic yards of rock.

  • It wasn't a very complete T. rex,

  • and it wasn't a very big T. rex,

  • but it was a very special B-rex.

  • And I and my colleagues cut into it,

  • and we were able to determine,

  • by looking at lines of arrested growth, some lines in it,

  • that B-rex had died at the age of 16.

  • We don't really know how long dinosaurs lived,

  • because we haven't found the oldest one yet.

  • But this one died at the age of 16.

  • We gave samples to Mary Schweitzer,

  • and she was actually able to determine

  • that B-rex was a female

  • based on medullary tissue

  • found on the inside of the bone.

  • Medullary tissue is the calcium build-up,

  • the calcium storage basically,

  • when an animal is pregnant,

  • when a bird is pregnant.

  • So here was the character

  • that linked birds and dinosaurs.

  • But Mary went further.

  • She took the bone, and she dumped it into acid.

  • Now we all know that bones are fossilized,

  • and so if you dump it into acid,

  • there shouldn't be anything left.

  • But there was something left.

  • There were blood vessels left.

  • There were flexible, clear blood vessels.

  • And so here was the first soft tissue from a dinosaur.

  • It was extraordinary.

  • But she also found osteocytes,

  • which are the cells that laid down the bones.

  • And try and try, we could not find DNA,

  • but she did find evidence of proteins.

  • But we thought maybe --

  • well, we thought maybe

  • that the material was breaking down after it was coming out of the ground.

  • We thought maybe it was deteriorating very fast.

  • And so we built a laboratory

  • in the back of an 18-wheeler trailer,

  • and actually took the laboratory to the field

  • where we could get better samples.

  • And we did. We got better material.

  • The cells looked better.

  • The vessels looked better.

  • Found the protein collagen.

  • I mean, it was wonderful stuff.

  • But it's not dinosaur DNA.

  • So we have discovered

  • that dinosaur DNA, and all DNA,

  • just breaks down too fast.

  • We're just not going to be able

  • to do what they did in "Jurassic Park."

  • We're not going to be able to make a dinosaur

  • based on a dinosaur.

  • But birds are dinosaurs.

  • Birds are living dinosaurs.

  • We actually classify them

  • as dinosaurs.

  • We now call them non-avian dinosaurs

  • and avian dinosaurs.

  • So the non-avian dinosaurs

  • are the big clunky ones that went extinct.

  • Avian dinosaurs are our modern birds.

  • So we don't have to make a dinosaur

  • because we already have them.

  • (Laughter)

  • I know, you're as bad as the sixth-graders.

  • (Laughter)

  • The sixth-graders look at it and they say, "No."

  • (Laughter)

  • "You can call it a dinosaur,

  • but look at the velociraptor: the velociraptor is cool."

  • (Laughter)

  • "The chicken is not."

  • (Laughter)

  • So this is our problem,

  • as you can imagine.

  • The chicken is a dinosaur.

  • I mean it really is.

  • You can't argue with it

  • because we're the classifiers and we've classified it that way.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • But the sixth-graders demand it.

  • "Fix the chicken."

  • (Laughter)

  • So that's what I'm here to tell you about:

  • how we are going to fix a chicken.

  • So we have a number of ways

  • that we actually can fix the chicken.

  • Because evolution works,

  • we actually have some evolutionary tools.

  • We'll call them biological modification tools.

  • We have selection.

  • And we know selection works.

  • We started out with a wolf-like creature

  • and we ended up with a Maltese.

  • I mean, that's --

  • that's definitely genetic modification.

  • Or any of the other funny-looking little dogs.

  • We also have transgenesis.

  • Transgenesis is really cool too.