MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The King of Dinosaurs or a Chicken Dinner? One Paleontologist’s Quest to Activate Atavistic Genes and Create a Dinosaur

Justin Lessek
Columbia Heights Educational Campus
Washington, DC

Diana Aljets
Columbia Heights Educational Campus
Washington, DC

Lesson vetted and approved by CPALMS 

This lesson uses the fundamentals of protein synthesis as a context for investigating the closest living relative to Tyrannosaurus rex and evaluating whether or not paleontologist and dinosaur expert, Jack Horner, will be able to "create" live dinosaurs in the lab. The first objective is for students to be able to access and properly utilize the NIH's protein sequence database to perform a BLAST, using biochemical evidence to determine T rex's closest living relative. The second objective is for students to be able to explain and evaluate Jack Horner's plans for creating live dinosaurs in the lab. The main prerequisite for the lesson is a basic understanding of protein synthesis, or the flow of information in the cell from DNA to RNA during transcription and then from RNA to protein during translation. You will find downloadable handouts of the necessary documents for the lesson. To complete the lesson, you will need the handouts and ideally computers with Internet connections so that students can complete the BLAST on their own or in groups. The computers are not a requirement, however, because the video has an optional segment that goes through the BLAST step-by-step and shows students exactly what they would see if they were doing it themselves. There is an optional reading assignment from WIRED magazine at the close of the lesson, and the article can be accessed for free on-line at The lesson should take somewhere around 90 minutes, a portion of which is group or classroom discussion based on prompts from the video or the handouts. 

Justin Lessek has been teaching biology and other science courses at the high school and middle school levels for the last eleven years. He has taught in Chicago, Santiago de Chile, and Washington, DC. His class website can be found at

Diana Aljets has been teaching Biology in Washington, DC for three years and before that she taught Ecology in Kazakhstan as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Diana has travelled extensively around all parts of Asia and secretly wants to be a Paleontologist.

This is the URL for the TED Talk given by Professor Jack Horner in 2011.

This is the URL for the BLOSSOMS lesson, "Identifying Animals by Appearance versus by DNA", that is recommended by the teachers of this lesson.

This is a link to the Wired Magazine article, “How to Hatch a Dinosaur”, referred to in this video lesson.

This article from the Tech Times is entitled “Bird Evolution Decoded: Scientists Map Genomes of 48 Species”. It provides an extension for this BLOSSOMS lesson.

This is a Wikipedia entry on the paleontologist, Jack Horner.

This site, sponsored by Teachers’ Domain, provides a comprehensive lesson on the topic of protein synthesis, a familiarity with which is a prerequisite for this BLOSSOMS lesson.

 This article from Discovery News discusses that, based on newly discovered decay rates for DNA, dinosaurs have been extinct too long to revive as clones.

This article from Nature journal provides new evidence about prehistoric dinosaur tissue.

Add A Comment
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.