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October 11 2012
The lesson of the Jurassic Park tragedy was clear ó man and dinosaur were not meant to coexist. Itís lucky then that dinosaur fossils are far too old to contain any genetic material that could be used for cloning. DNA breaks down over time, even when kept in ideal conditions, and a study of extinct moa bones has revealed an estimate of the half-life for our genes.
It might be odd to think of DNA having a half-life, as itís usually associated with radioactive material ó but as it measures the time taken for half of something to decay, it makes sense to talk about old samples of DNA in the same way. For example, uranium-235, the fissile material that can be used in nuclear power plants (and nuclear weapons), has a half-life of 703.8 million years. DNA, by comparison, doesnít fare so well ó according to a study of 158 samples of moa bones between 500 and 6,000 years old, DNA appears to have a half-life of around 521 years.
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