THE AMBER SARCOPHAGUS: Dinosaurs, Disease, and Drugs—and the Scientist Behind Jurassic Park
OREGON BIOLOGIST George Poinar Jr. is bugged by Jurassic Park. But he has a right to be. His science inspired the books and films.
It was Poinar’s work in the 1980s that first hinted at the prospect of using prehistoric DNA preserved in amber to restore extinct creatures to life. That work caught the eye of Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton—and the rest is sci-fi history. The scientific history, however, is something else entirely.
Arguably the world’s leading expert on amber paleontology, Poinar’s vision of the past is a vicious, self-devouring circle of life. A world where insects reign supreme, where dinosaurs have psychedelic trips, and where disease ravages all—ultimately delivering the knock-out punch to the dinosaurs that even a cataclysmic meteorite could not.
But this isn’t what he’s known for.
For much of his career, the Jurassic Park franchise has buzzed around Poinar like so many of the ancient pests he investigates. With Jurassic World opening in theaters this week, the 79-year-old scientist once again finds himself fielding calls about DNA research he’s largely abandoned.
He doesn’t mind. But he’s troubled that amid the CG dinosaurs crashing through multiplexes, the real monsters of prehistory—the bugs, blights, and pathogens—are overlooked. If Poinar’s work has shown anything, it’s that those little things not only matter, but the world they reveal is more brutal and bizarre than even Crichton or Steven Spielberg could imagine.