Jurassic Park is a 1990 science fiction novel written by Michael Crichton. Often considered a cautionary tale on unconsidered biological tinkering in the same spirit as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it uses the mathematical concept of chaos theory and its philosophical implications to explain the collapse of an amusement park showcasing genetically recreated dinosaurs. In 1993, Steven Spielberg adapted the book into the blockbuster film Jurassic Park, which won 3 Oscars, 19 other awards, and 15 nominations. The book’s sequel, The Lost World (1995), was also adapted by Spielberg into a film in 1997.
The narrative begins by slowly tying together a series of incidents involving strange animal attacks in Costa Rica and on Isla Nublar, the main setting for the story. One of the species, a strange small lizard-like creature with three toes, is identified later as a Procompsognathus. Paleontologist Alan Grant and his paleobotanist graduate student Ellie Sattler are abruptly whisked away by billionaire John Hammond (founder and chief executive officer of International Genetic Technologies, or InGen) for a weekend visit to a “biological preserve” he has established on an island 120 miles west off the coast of Costa Rica.
Recent events have spooked Hammond’s considerable investors, so, to placate them, he means for Grant and Sattler to act as fresh consultants. They stand in counterbalance to a well-known mathematician and chaos theorist, Ian Malcolm, and a lawyer representing the investors, Donald Gennaro. Both are pessimistic, but Malcolm, having been consulted before the park’s creation, is emphatic in his prediction that the park will collapse, as it is an unsustainable simple structure bluntly forced upon a complex system.
Upon arrival the park is revealed to contain cloned dinosaurs, which have been recreated using damaged DNA found in mosquitoes that sucked dinosaur blood and were then trapped and preserved in amber. Gaps in the genetic code have been filled in with reptilian, avian, or amphibian DNA. To control the population, all specimens on the island are bred to be female as well as lysine-deficient. Hammond proudly showcases InGen’s advances in genetic engineering and shows his guests through the island’s vast array of automated systems.
Ian Malcolm created dragon curves to simulate the actions that were to take place in the park.
Countering Malcolm’s dire predictions with youthful energy, Hammond groups the consultants with his grandchildren, Tim and Alexis “Lex” Murphy. While touring the park with the children, Grant finds a Velociraptor eggshell, which seems to prove Malcolm’s earlier assertion that the dinosaurs have been breeding against the geneticists’ design (the population graphs proudly introduced earlier were normally distributed, reflecting a breeding population, rather than displaying the distinct pattern that a population reared in batches ought to display).
Malcolm suggests a flaw in their method of analyzing dinosaur populations, in that motion detectors were set to search only for the expected number of creatures in the park and not for any higher number. The park’s controllers are reluctant to admit that the park has long been operating beyond their constraints. Malcolm also points out the height distribution of the Procompsognathus forms a Gaussian distribution, the curve of a breeding population.
In the midst of this, the chief programmer of Jurassic Park’s controlling software, Dennis Nedry, attempts corporate espionage for Lewis Dodgson, a geneticist and agent of InGen’s archrival, Biosyn. By activating a backdoor he wrote into the system, Nedry manages to shut down the park’s security systems and quickly steal 15 frozen embryos, one of each of the park’s fifteen species. He then attempts to smuggle them out to a contact waiting at the auxiliary dock deep in the park. But his plan goes awry: during a sudden tropical storm Nedry becomes lost and stops his stolen Jeep at a dead end. He exits the Jeep to determine his location. A Dilophosaurus approaches him from afar, blinds him with its poisonous saliva, and then kills him. Nedry’s plan called for him to secretly deliver the embryos and return to the park’s control room within five minutes, but without him to quietly patch the system, the park’s security is left off, leaving the electrified fences deactivated. Without the barriers to contain them, dinosaurs begin to escape. The adult and juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex attack the guests on tour, destroying the vehicles, killing public relations manager Ed Regis, and leaving Grant and the children lost in the park. Ian Malcolm is gravely injured during the incident but is soon found by Gennaro and park game warden Robert Muldoon and spends the remainder of the novel slowly dying as, in between lucid lectures and morphine-induced rants, he tries to help those in the main compound understand their predicament and survive.
The park’s upper management — engineer and park supervisor John Arnold, chief geneticist Henry Wu, Muldoon, and Hammond — struggle to return power to the park, while the veterinarian, Dr. Harding, takes care of the injured Malcolm. For a time they manage to get the park largely back in order, restoring the computer system by shutting down and restarting the power, resetting the system. Unfortunately, a series of errors on their part soon plunge the park into greater disarray. During their time trying to restore the park to working order, they fail to notice that the system has been running on auxiliary power since the restart, which soon runs out, shutting the park down a second time. The viciously intelligent Velociraptors, referred to by characters as “raptors”, finally escape. They soon kill Wu and Arnold, and injure Muldoon, Gennaro, and Harding. Finally, Grant and the children slowly make their way back to the central compound, carrying news that several young raptors, bred and raised in the island’s wilds, were on board the Anne B, the island’s supply ship, when it departed for the mainland.
Grant is able to turn the main power back on, while Ellie distracts the raptors so that they won’t get to him. After escaping from several raptors, Grant, Gennaro, Tim, and Lex are able to make it to the control room, where Tim is able to contact the Anne B and tell them to return. The survivors are then able to organize themselves and eventually secure their own lives. Word soon reaches them that the crew of the Anne B has discovered and killed the raptor stowaways.
Gennaro tries to order the island destroyed as a dangerous asset, but Grant rejects his authority, claiming that even though they cannot control the island, they have a responsibility to understand just what happened and how many dinosaurs have already escaped to the mainland. Finally Grant, Ellie, and Muldoon set out into the park to find the wild raptor nests and compare hatched eggs with the island’s revised population tally. Cautious in this pursuit, they emerge unharmed. Meanwhile, Hammond, while taking a walk around the park, contemplates making a park improving on his previous mistakes, but gets injured, then killed and eaten by a pack of compys. Concerning the dinosaurs’ breeding, it is eventually revealed that the frog DNA used to fill gaps in certain strands enabled some of the dinosaurs to change sex, as some species of frog can do.
In the end the island is suddenly and violently demolished by the fictional Costa Rican Air Force (in reality, Costa Rica has no air force, nor any armed forces). It is not clearly stated that Malcolm dies (Grant asks Muldoon of Malcom’s condition when they depart via helicopter, Muldoon’s nonverbal response is merely shaking his head and on the second to last page it says that the Costa Rican government wouldn’t permit a burial for Hammond or Malcom). Survivors of the incident are indefinitely detained by the United States and Costa Rican governments. Weeks later, Grant is visited by Dr. Martin Guitierrez, an American doctor, who lives in Costa Rica and has found a Procompsognathus corpse. Guitierrez informs Grant that an unknown pack of animals has been eating crops rich in lysine (the molecule in which the animals were designed to be deficient) and killing chickens as they migrate toward the Costa Rican jungle. He also informs Grant that none of them, with the possible exception of Tim and Lex, are going to be leaving any time soon.
Prehistoric animals featured in the novel
Tyrannosaurus, Velociraptor, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Dilophosaurus, Procompsognathus, Apatosaurus, Maiasaura and many other species of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals are featured.
Biological issues and accuracy
Scientists have argued that much of the book’s content is impossible for various reasons, most notably the suggested means of recovering dinosaur DNA from mosquitoes trapped in fossilized tree resin (amber). While this theory is largely a plot device by Crichton, both novel and movie sparked debate on the feasibility of cloning dinosaurs.
Five arguments why it would not be possible to obtain dinosaurs with this process are summarized thus:
1. Research indicates dinosaur DNA would be very difficult to correctly sequence without a complete, intact DNA strand for comparison. It would be unlikely to find a complete sequence because DNA is typically unstable outside living organisms (unless it is in the proper buffer).
2. Any gaps in the resulting DNA sequence must be filled with dinosaur DNA; using frog DNA as the story suggests would likely produce an organism that varied from the original animal.
3. Cloning a complete DNA sequence requires an oocyte from the same organism. Since no Mesozoic dinosaurs are alive today, this is impossible.
4. The processes of CpG methylation and cytosine deaminization are especially important. The process of CpG methylation is a common regulatory device in eukaryotic DNA, where cytosine immediately preceding a guanine on the same stand is methylated. This acts as a molecular flag to control gene expression. The problem is, over time cytosine deaminization can occur—where a cytosine loses its amine group, which is replaced by a carbonyl group. un-methylated cytosine results in uracil, which is not found in DNA, so can it be assumed to be a de-aminated cytosine. On the other hand, if the cytosine has methylated, then the product of deaminization is thymine, which is found in DNA—so it would be impossible to know which Ts are Ts, and which are de-aminated methyl cytosines.
5. Over such a long time, the entrapped DNA molecules would reform into minerals, just as conifer resin crystallizes into amber, effectively destroying any viable DNA strands. Brownian motion and entropy (energy losses) make the atoms go to their lowest energy states, which would be crystals rather than amorphous material. The same processes causes obsidian and other volcanic glass to crystallize in less than 100,000 years. In addition, heat and pressure from burial would also tend to metamorphose the DNA just as it metamorphoses the resin into amber.
Furthermore, it is likely that any prehistoric DNA obtained from a fossilized mosquito would have become contaminated with the mosquito’s own, again making it problematic to clone an ‘accurate’ and viable organism.
Crichton appears to have been aware of most, if not all, of the scientific objections raised, a consequence of his own medical background (he has a doctor’s degree). Within the novel, Dr. Wu reflects on the nature of his dinosaurs. For Dr. Henry Wu, they are his creations, made from fragments of DNA available, and corrected and changed according to the needs of the client, Mr. Hammond. The animals replicated in this way would have represented a truly towering achievement in the biological sciences – the manufacture of fully synthetic organisms with structures based on theoretical models as opposed to truly observed biology. That the dinosaurs thus manufactured display the characteristics of natural organisms, including responding to environmental pressures (such as the all-female population, and lysinergic biochemical pathway degradation) increases the magnitude of the achievement.
A theme expressed throughout the story and its sequel is that of endothermic (“warm blooded”), homeothermic (able to maintain a stable body temperature), dinosaurs, a then-recent theory popularized by paleontologist Bob Bakker. While the cinematic adaptation of Jurassic Park used ostrich eggs as vessels to facilitate expression, the novel described “a new plastic with the characteristics of an avian eggshell.” The plastic was called ‘millipore’, invented by an eponymous company subsequently bought by InGen. (Millipore Corporation is also the name of a real company that manufactures materials for use in biological sciences, although it is not known to make dinosaur eggshells. That said, Crichton correctly identifies the company as the most likely to produce a suitable material.