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DNA in fossil fuels

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Insect in oil shale

An ancient blood-engorged insect from an oil shale formation in northwestern Montana.[1]

Fossil fuels are potential places to find ancient DNA. Fossil fuels like petroleum, coal and natural gas are formed from large quantities of dead prehistoric organisms that are buried underneath sedimentary rock and subjected to intense heat and pressure. Since fossil fuels are formed from prehistoric organisms, it is understandable that some people thought that the deposits still contain ancient biomolecules, like DNA, in oil deposits.

DNA in oilEdit

Jurassic World Science feat09:36

Jurassic World Science feat. Chris Pratt and Jack Horner-1448363807

At 1:27 they start to talk about fossil fuels.

It is a common misconception that petroleum was made from dead dinosaurs. In 2015 Jurassic World actor Chris Pratt was interviewed by YouTuber Vsauce. Chris Pratt (acted like he) wondered - since dinosaurs turned into fossils and fossil fuel - "Is it safe to say that our cars run on the ghosts of dinosaurs?" Vsauce asked that question to paleontologist Jack Horner.

Horner explained that oil "doesn't come from dinosaurs at all." Oil is formed from zooplankton and algae in oceans. In fact, if you would take all the dinosaurs that ever lived and squeezed the oil out of them, we would probably run out of that oil in days. Vsauce asked if there could be a tiny molecule from dinosaurs in every thousand gallons of oil. Jack Horner explained that all oil comes from marine life, so the dinosaurs (land animals) did not contribute to it.

So, petroleum can not contain DNA from dinosaurs or any other land animal. That does not rule out DNA from marine animals or the actual plankton and algae from which almost all the oil was made. However, there have been no reports of ancient DNA or any other biomolecule in petroleum.[2]

DNA in coalEdit

Contrary to petroleum, coal is actually formed from prehistoric plants and can contain fossils of animals.

Jurassic Park mediaEdit

In 2015 Masrani Energy discovered offshore peat deposits in the United Arab Emirates. Emma Hannigan, Masrani Oil’s Head of Public Relations, explained: "An analysis of [the peat deposit] has shown identifiable carbon and iron-rich organic structures from the late Cretaceous to mid Miocene periods." It is possible that these organic structures still contained ancient DNA. "This has InGen’s scientists very excited. With the prospects of adding to InGen’s ever expanding aquatic and botanic genomic library, who knows what else is out there?"

News pic4

Ammonite fossil in peat deposit (according to the Masrani website).

If these peat deposits still contain DNA-rich fossils, all fossil fuel desposits could contain DNA, since "fossil fuels are hydrocarbons such as coal, oil and natural gas, derived from the biological remnants of prehistoric organisms".

In March 2015 Masrani Oil and InGen, now both subsidiaries of the Masrani Global Corporation, met to discuss how new innovations in fossil fuel technology will be able to aid in the identification of well-preserved fossils.[3]


Peat bog can perfectly preserve organisms. Many human bodies, bog bodies or bog people, have been recovered from peat deposits and have been dated as early as 8,000 years B.C.E (see Koelbjerg Woman). However, there are no peat deposits that have retained their partially decayed structure for many millions of years.[4] Bog deposits from the Cretaceous and Paleogene have been fossilized.

DNA in oil shalesEdit

Under construction

Further ReadingEdit


  1. Dale E. Greenwalt, Yulia S. Goreva, Sandra M. Siljeström, Tim Rose, and Ralph E. Harbach. Hemoglobin-derived porphyrins preserved in a Middle Eocene blood-engorged mosquito, PNAS, 2013 110 (46) 18496-18500; published ahead of print October 14, 2013, doi:10.1073/pnas.1310885110.
  2. PubMed search for "Petroleum + ancient + biomolecules gives no results.
  3. Masrani News (2015, Februari).
  4. PubMed search for "Cretaceous"+"Paleogene"+"peat"+"bog" gives no results.

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