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Interviews: Ask What You Will of Paleontologist Jack Horner 208

Posted by samzenpus
from the life-found-a-way dept.
John "Jack" R. Horner is the Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, adjunct curator at the National Museum of Natural History, and one of the most famous paleontologists in the world. Known in the scientific community for his research on dinosaur growth and whether or not some species lived in social groups, he is most famous for his work on Jurassic Park and being the inspiration for the character of Alan Grant. Horner caused quite a stir with the publication of his book, How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever, in which he proposes creating a "chickensaurus" by genetically "nudging" the DNA of a chicken. Jack has agreed to step away from the genetics lab and put down the bones in order to answer your questions. As usual, you're invited to ask as many questions as you'd like, but please divide them, one question per post.
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Interviews: Ask What You Will of Paleontologist Jack Horner

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  • by vistapwns (1103935) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @12:35PM (#42680839)
    Assuming you had some great technology that could collect it, is there any possible source of dinosaur DNA that would allow a more or less complete rebuild of a dinosaur (again assuming great futuristic technology that can accomplish this - think nanobots and strong AI)? Or is all dinosaur DNA forever gone? Or is it an undecided question?
  • Chickensaurus? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alexander_686 (957440) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @12:41PM (#42680887)

    If I were going to fund 1 program, which should I fund chickensaurus over resurrecting a Neanderthal, Woolly Mammoth, or a Tasmanian Tiger? I mean they are all valid – but please make your case on why you should go first.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday January 24, 2013 @12:44PM (#42680921) Journal
    Something that's always made me curious about Paleontology is how far the study has come. If we look back historically at how dinosaur bones were exhumed and treated, some of the methods were actually a little bit destructive. So I've always wondered how paleontologists today cope with the fact that 100 years in the future we will likely have technology beyond our wildest dreams that will be able to scan the ground and find fossils in their original preserved intact positions and when they are excavated the process will surely be much more refined and exact measurements will be taken to better understand dinosaurs. I'm sure preservation techniques and materials science will allow us to even better handle finds. How do you cope with this idea that hundreds of years from now your efforts might be seen as crude or arcane? Do you ever wish that some paleontologists of the past had just left the specimens lying there for a future paleontologist to properly handle? Or do you just see this as a necessary way to move forward? Building on that, is there an end-game for paleontologists where the entire Earth has been inspected/surveyed and how many years out is that (I understand that sensor technology would have to come a very long way)?
  • Paleocene dinosaurs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by niado (1650369) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @01:00PM (#42681073)
    So, first of all this is hands-down the best Slashdot interview ever!

    On to my actual question: what do you think about the possible existence of Paleocene dinosaurs? I understand that any current fossil evidence for their existence is likely caused by reworked fossils. How likely do you believe it is that a particular dinosaur taxon survived a few million years after the extinction event, and what would be the implications of this occurring?
  • Job Elements (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chaseshaw (1486811) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @01:01PM (#42681079)
    I wanted to be a paleontologist my entire life (and still do) but I ended up in computers because of the money. However I still daydream about it. What is the best part of your job? What's the worst?
  • Dinosaur skin (Score:4, Interesting)

    by smooth wombat (796938) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @01:02PM (#42681089) Homepage Journal

    Slightly off base from your normal work, how often is dinosaur skin, or its impression, found when fossils are located and has any type of color ever been found associated with the skin?

  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @01:11PM (#42681177)

    Should the raptors have feathers?

  • K-T Extinction Event (Score:4, Interesting)

    by niado (1650369) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @01:20PM (#42681283)
    So, let's pretend the K-T event never happened and dinosaurs survived into the Holocene. What do you think the world's fauna would be like now? How would dinosaur evolution have progressed? Assuming humans had still come onto the scene (because it would be so cool) would we have driven the dinosaurs to extinction by now?
  • The Known Unknowns (Score:5, Interesting)

    by medcalf (68293) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @01:39PM (#42681465) Homepage
    What are the current big, unanswered questions in mesozoic paleontology? That is, what are the questions we have, but do not yet have more than guessed answers for?
  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday January 24, 2013 @02:11PM (#42681855) Homepage Journal

    This one is from my 6-year-old boy, Will. We're currently reading a book about dinosaurs (he gets three per bedtime). He wants to know, "how many dinosaurs haven't been discovered yet?" One of his favorites is one that was discovered in China fairly recently (many of the famous ones seem to come from the US midwest from the early part of last century).

    While his question is impossible to answer on its own, do paleontologists have a sense of whether the types of soils likely to hold fossils have been well explored, or if we've merely scratched the surface [sic] of what's to come?

  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @02:13PM (#42681873)

    Why start with a chicken instead of an Emu or Cassowary? Those large flightless birds already look a lot more like dinosaurs than a chicken. They even have 3 toes. With a longer tail and some teeth they would seem very dinosaur-like.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 24, 2013 @03:56PM (#42683063)

    I saw some of the mammoth and mastadon fossils found in Snowmass Villaige, CO when they were displayed at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. One of the guides there said they intentionally took only 10% of the specimens from the site, specifically because they don't know what sort of new techniques and technology will be developed in the next 50-100 years to extract and study them.

  • by Camel Pilot (78781) on Thursday January 24, 2013 @06:54PM (#42684927) Homepage Journal

    My son is a sophomore in college and is consider a career in paleontology. I don't really know how to advise him and not sure of the prospects. He has the passion, grades and ambition. What advice would you have for a young person enter the field and what undergraduate degree would you recommend.

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