“Muldoon: (desperate) What about the Lysine contingency? We could put that into effect!
Ellie: What’s that?
Hammond: (walks away from the group) it’s absolutely out of the question.
Arnold: The Lysine contingency – it’s intended to prevent the spread of the animals in case they ever got off the island, but we could use it now. Dr. Wu inserted a gene that makes a single faulty enzyme in protein metabolism. Animals can’t manufacture the amino acid Lysine. Unless they’re continually supplied with Lysine by us, they’ll go into a coma and die.”
-Jurassic Park, 1993
When I was 10 and was watching Jurassic Park for the first time, I remember being most fascinated with the mention of amino acids. Admittedly, it was partly because amino sounded like ammo and I always imagined amino acids to be the muscular fit type in the world of the basic units of food, at least as compared to sugars and fatty acids. So I was intrigued. If we do not get a certain amino acid in our body, we would die? What was this particular amino acid which sounded curiously like ‘lie seen’ anyway?
Amino acids are what you get when you break down proteins into its basic molecules. These typically have an amino group (-NH2) and a carboxylic group (-COOH) attached to a Carbon atom. There are over 200 amino acids in the world, but only 20 are needed by living things and these are named ‘standard amino acids’. Out of the 20, only 9 are essential, meaning that the body cannot create it on its own and hence need to be supplied via food. Lysine is one of these 9. It has a three letter code, Lys and its one letter code is uniquely, K.
Hence, I found that not only were dinosaurs lacking in lysine, so were we. Later on in the story, it was mentioned that the dinosaurs escaped the island because *cue deep voice* life found a way. The solution was subtly revealed by the pattern in which the animals migrated out of the island. They ate crops in a very peculiar manner while moving. What crops do you think were eaten? You might have guessed it: Lysine-rich crops like white beans, soy and chickens.
Other lysine-rich foods include meat, parmesan cheese and fish. The recommended daily intake is 30 mg per kilogram of body weight. So, if you weigh 50 kilograms, you require 1.5 grams, easily found in just 50 grams of chicken. The lysine in food is needed for the body to produce collagen, the protein used to connect the different parts of the body together and for calcium absorption. A lack of essential amino acids in humans will not result in coma and death like what was proposed to happen to dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. In theory, a complete lack of lysine would result in death from protein starvation in a very slow and undramatic process. In reality, not getting enough essential amino acids will usually cause tiredness, nausea and a general sense of uneasiness.
Does the above quote seem hilarious to you now? What were the movie-scientists thinking? Maybe, they had thought that the environment that the dinosaurs were in was a closed system and hence the only source of lysine was from supplements being fed by the dinosaur-keepers. Or maybe more accurately, they thought that movie-goers would not think too much about a vague scientific concept mentioned in passing. Now, you know better.
What are your thoughts?
A silly question a day keeps life interesting,
P.S. Michael Crichton is the best science fiction author ever.
Crichton, M. (1996). Jurassic Park. England: Heinemann.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Rockville, MD: US Dept of Health and Human Services and US Dept of Agriculture; 2005.
Haas, E. M., & Levin, B. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition: the complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.
Lysine, the unique essential amino acid. (1947). Union, NJ.
Whitbread, D. (2016, November 21). Top 10 Foods Highest in Lysine. Retrieved from https://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/high-lysine-foods.php