Smithsonian Magazine just put out a blog that chronicles the strange journey of a fossilized mosquito with ancient blood still contained in its stomach, reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jurassic Park.
The ancient mosquito was unearthed in Montana’s Glacier National Park by a geology graduate student named Kurt Constenius, who picked it up during a fossil-hunting trip with his parents and left it in a basement for a couple decades. A retired biochemist named Dale Greenwalt rescued it as part of his fossil collection efforts for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
Greenwalt’s fascinating collection of insect fossils includes thousands of samples from 14 different orders of the insect world. In order to retrieve some of his older samples, he had to raft the Flathead River to a special location that features shale formations dating to the Eocene epoch, or roughly 46 million years ago.
For those unfamiliar, the plot of Jurassic Park revolves around a fossilized mosquito, preserved in amber, that happened to have fed on dinosaurs such as the massive Tyrannosaurus rex and the Velociraptor. A wealthy entrepreneur collected the mosquito and had the dinosaurs resurrected through cloning technology.
The research regarding the mosquito fossil was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Greenwalt and entomologist Ralph Harbach.
The Smithsonian Museum’s mineral science lab conducted the analysis using energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy. Unfortunately for movie fans, and although they did detect the presence of heme (the compound that serves our red blood cells’ functions), the mosquito is contained in shale rock rather than amber, and it’s slightly too young (at 46 million years) to realistically contain dinosaur blood. Even worse, scientists can make no determination as to what creature’s blood the mosquito contains, because DNA degrades far too much to survive being caged inside the rock.
Even if such a mosquito were discovered under the most optimistic conditions, recently conducted research has placed the half-life of DNA at 521 years, which is a rapid rate of degradation. So don’t go expecting your own personal dinosaur ecosystem any time soon.