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‘Jurassic Park’ Turning Ancient Gems Into Gold

June 18, 1993

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) _ ″Jurassic Park″ isn’t just striking pay dirt at the box office, it’s turning amber sales into a gold mine, too.

The movie’s premise, that ancient DNA sucked from fossilized insects trapped in amber can be used to resurrect dinosaurs, has prompted mammoth demand for the tawny substance, gem sellers say.

″The weekend sales that we tracked from Friday really changed,″ said Esther Swann, buyer for The Nature Company, a 104-store national chain based in Berkeley. ″It was just like a vacuum.″

In the movie, which opened Friday, scientists extract dinosaur genetic material from an insect that fed on one of the creatures before being trapped in the resin, then clone a bunch of dinosaurs, with unfortunate results.

The science fiction scenario was based in part on the real life work of University of California scientist George O. Poinar of Berkeley, an entomologist who began studying chunks of amber more than 20 years ago.

Poinar said Thursday the hoopla has been ″a bit overwhelming.″

″When we began doing this work, we didn’t anticipate the book and the movie coming out and kind of whipping up the public into a frenzy over dinosaurs and amber,″ he said.

Last week, researchers, including Poinar, reported extracting genetic material from a weevil that coexisted with dinosaurs. However, the genetic material was from the insect, not dinosaur blood, as in the plot of ″Jurassic Park.″ Researchers take pains to note they do not believe cloning a dinosaur is feasible, and they’re not trying.

Still, the intriguing possibilities are drawing buyers, said Patrick Cancilla, manager of The Nature Company’s Walnut Creek store, about 20 miles east of San Francisco.

″It’s dinosaur-mania, of course,″ he said.

Across the country, amber sales have also been on an upswing at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Dinostore, said buyer Ernest Pazmany.

He tracked the date of increased interest to an article that appeared in the Smithsonian magazine earlier this year about DNA research.

Pazmany said he ″actually resisted carrying this stuff simply because you could sell a piece for $500 and it could weigh all of 3 ounces.″

But with the success of the book and movie, amber has taken on a truly golden glow, said Pazmany. He estimated the store has sold ″several thousand dollars worth″ this year.

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