Having learned nothing from the triple Academy Award winning “documentary” of 1993, scientists from Harvard, Yale and several other universities have been manipulating chicken embryos into growing dinosaur faces.
Published in the journal Evolution, the paper, titled "A molecular mechanism for the origin of a key evolutionary innovation, the bird beak and palate, revealed by an integrative approach to major transitions in vertebrate history" explains how the boffins manipulated the very building-blocks of life to create the abhorrent beasts.
The work reportedly took researchers from alligator nests in southern Louisiana, to an emu farm in Massachusetts, where they extracted the DNA of various species in order to clone fragments of genetic material to look for specific gene expressions.
"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 Yale paleontologist and developmental biologist Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar, lead author of the study.
"The beak is a crucial part of the avian feeding apparatus, and is the component of the avian skeleton that has perhaps diversified most extensively and most radically — consider flamingos, parrots, hawks, pelicans, and hummingbirds, among others," Bhullar explained. "Yet little work has been done on what exactly a beak is, anatomically, and how it got that way either evolutionarily or developmentally."
A Yale University press release describes the science behind the boffins' mad plans:
Using small-molecule inhibitors to eliminate the activity of the proteins produced by the bird-specific, median signaling zone in chicken embryos, the researchers were able to induce the ancestral molecular activity and the ancestral anatomy. Not only did the beak structure revert, but the process also caused the palatine bone on the roof of the mouth to go back to its ancestral state.
The novel molecular manipulation Bhullar utilised may be used to investigate the underlying developmental mechanisms of a number of evolutionary transformations. Bhullar has stated how if a single molecular mechanism was responsible for this transformation, there should be a corresponding, linked transformation in the fossil record. Finding such a transformation would be a major scientific event.
The Register has contacted the researchers for information about whether any of the embryos were eventually hatched, and if so if it is possible to purchase a dino-chicken. We will update this article if we receive a response. ®