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The Dinosaur Train is Not Real


My daughter is almost four. She has two favorite shows right now and they are Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (which plays with my emotions a lot in very complex and nostalgic ways) and Dinosaur Train. The show is great for loads of reasons. It positively portrays a blended family, encourages curiosity, and has a lot of cool dinosaur facts. It’s about a time travelling dinosaur family who ride a train pulled by a steam locomotive powered by fossil fuels. In fact, there are so many problems from an internal logic standpoint, that it’s difficult to decide where to even being. But that’s not the point. With the exception of the cryolophosaurus episodes (if you’ve seen the show, you know what I’m talking about), it’s a fun show that I don’t hate watching with her. And that, dear Internets, is the important thing.

So the family travels back and forth in the Mesozoic Era meeting all the creatures that inhabit them. There’s this one episode where they find a fossil of some long-extinct creature from a previous time period and decide to go back in time to meet this creature in the flesh becuase, of course, they have the power of time travel. It’s this, like, weirdly ghoulish episode in my mind, because it’s almost like they’re trying to find who owned this exact skull. And then, what? Show it to them? Give it back?

I can’t remember how the episode turned out, but I’d obviously be lying if I said I didn’t always fantasize about what they were like when they were alive whenever I see a skeleton at the museum. Or a fossil in a piece of rock.

It’s why Jurassic Park is a multi-billion dollar property. People freaking love dinosaurs. And people love the idea of meeting them in the flesh.

So, some scientists did a science and found some Dino DNA! Well, sort of. Isn’t that just how these headlines go? They stick it to you with this totally amazing thing and then dash your hopes into a million pieces because reality is never going to be as cool as headlines make it out to be.

I mean, yeah, they totally found some DNA in some fossilized cartillage of some euornithopod (late Cretaceous!), but it’s not like it was actual DNA. There are no genes that we can sequence. It’s just the presence of the chemicals that make up DNA that were still there. The actual original materials are still intact, but they’re irretrievably scrambled by the ravages of 70 million years.

So, it’s not like we’ll be cloning any duck billed dinos any time soon. All that they discovered was, in a way, the fossilized remains of something that doesn’t typically fossilize well. But we did learn something neat. DNA can persist longer than thought possible. It might inspire other scientists to continue looking for DNA, which is probably a good thing. Obviously, we have no idea if we’ll ever be able to even partially sequence actual dino DNA, but it’s worth imagining. It’s as close to the Dinosaur Train as we will ever be able to get.

It’ll have to be enough.

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