Oh how the mighty dinosaurs have fallen. It’s sad that the descendants of the magnificent creatures who once ruled the Earth have stubby wings and are the most commonly consumed meat in America (yes, we’re talking about chickens). Such is the circle of life.
And now, in an attempt to restore a bit of the glory of dinosaurs (or just create a truly bizarre looking animal), scientists have genetically modified chickens to give them dinosaur legs. However, the study notes that the creature didn’t make it far past the embryonic stage.
Interestingly enough, because of the close genetic relationship the modern day chicken shares with the prehistoric giant, the researchers involved with the wacky task simply had to silence a gene that chickens typically express. No gene insertion or further manipulation — just the (highly complex) flip of a switch.
The precise gene suppressed by the Chilean scientists, headed by Joâo Botelho at Universidad de Chile is one called the Indian Hedgehog. This gene is crucial to the development of a chicken’s bones, and when turned off, it apparently allows the birds to develop a bone structure that looks just like the lower leg of a raptor. Chicken on top, dinosaur on the bottom.
This is by no means the first time that Botelho or other scientists have engineered a bird to go back to its more magnificent origins. Botelho also managed to undo the backward-facing perching toe common in birds to produce a front-facing toe — much like what dinosaurs had. And at Yale, a chicken was given a dinosaur-esque snout when its gene expression was altered at the embryo stage.
This sort of work is taking place across the country, and indeed, across the world, says Jack Horner, a famous paleontologist whose expertise was consulted in each and every one of the Jurassic Park films. In his lab at Montana State University, scientists are working to “genetically alter a chicken egg to produce a more prehistoric version of the animal, complete with velociraptor-shaped head, arms, clawed hands, and long tail,” the Post Register reports. But don’t worry, researchers say we won’t be plunged into a real life version of the movies anytime soon.
“The experiments are focused on single traits, to test specific hypotheses,” says Alexander Vargas, who heads the lab in which Botelho works. “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 the evolution of development that can be explored in the lab.”
Just call it scientific curiosity, and enjoy the strange but wonderful results that have come out of it … thus far.