Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see a living dinosaur? Well, you might not have to wait for Jurassic Park to become a reality, because scientists have found a way to create chicken embryos with dinosaur-like faces.
Yes, you read that right. Researchers from Yale University and Harvard University have used a technique called gene editing to manipulate the DNA of chicken embryos and create a snout instead of a beak. The snout resembles the ancestral state of dinosaurs, which are the ancient relatives of birds.
The experiment was not intended to create a living creature, but rather to understand how the beak evolved and what genes are responsible for its formation. The beak is a unique feature of modern birds that has diversified into many shapes and sizes, such as flamingos, parrots, hawks, pelicans, and hummingbirds.
“Our goal here was to understand the molecular underpinnings of an important evolutionary transition, not to create a ‘dino-chicken’ simply for the sake of it,” said Arhat Abzhanov, an associate professor at Harvard and one of the authors of the study.
The researchers targeted two genes that are involved in the development of the beak. By inhibiting these genes, they were able to reverse the evolutionary process and produce an embryo with a snout that looks more like a crocodile or a lizard than a bird.
“This work is a beautiful demonstration of how tinkering with development can have profound effects on morphology. It shows us that by going back to earlier developmental states we can unlock ancestral features that have been hidden for millions of years,” said Arkhat Abzhanov.
The experiment was inspired by previous studies that showed that birds and dinosaurs share a common ancestor and that some dinosaur fossils had features similar to birds, such as feathers and hollow bones. The researchers hope that their findings will shed light on the origin and diversity of birds, which are the living descendants of dinosaurs, and also help to improve the conservation of endangered species.
“The experiments are focused on single traits to test specific hypotheses. Not only do we know a great deal about bird development, but also about the dinosaur-bird transition, which is well-documented by the fossil record. This leads naturally to hypotheses on what genetic alterations have taken place to affect specific traits,” said Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, a postdoctoral researcher at Yale and the lead author of the study.
“We modified only two genes in this study. There are many more genes involved in creating a beak. We don’t know what they all are yet. But we’re getting closer,” said Arhat Abzhanov.
So, what do you think? Are you excited or terrified by the prospect of seeing a chicken with a dinosaur face? Let us know in the comments below!
– How to Make a Dinosaur, Smithsonian Magazine, May 2015
– Scientists Create Chicken Embryos With Dinosaur-Like Faces, Smithsonian Magazine, October 25, 2021
– Scientists Are Reverse Engineering a Dinosaur From a Chicken, Inverse, October 26, 2021
– Jurassic Park 1.0: Chicken With Dinosaur Features Has Been Created by Scientists, Earthly Mission, October 27, 2021