Could we soon be living in a world where Jurassic Park is a real thing? It appears scientists learned nothing from that rather foreboding film, as a team of researchers at Yale University have managed to create chickens with dinosaur-like snouts, in yet another instance of man playing God.
Indeed, these scientists have created chickens that resemble their ancient ancestors, dinosaurs, by manipulating their genetics. To conduct their “experiment,” the scientists altered the genes of chicken embryos to change how the skull and beak would form. Apparently, they hope to find the missing link between modern birds and dinosaurs.
Paleontologist Dr. Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar and biologist Dr. Arhat Abzhanov led the shocking study — which is really just one of many disturbing experiments being conducted in the name of science.
It’s believed that dinosaurs were snuffed out of existence some 65 million years ago by an asteroid that struck the Earth — but one species managed to survive the impact, and today we know them as birds. Scientists have believed that birds evolved from dinosaurs since the 19th century. But earlier species of birds did not have beaks; they had snouts like their dinosaur predecessors. And in an effort to understand this change, the Yale team has been experimenting with the molecular processes that cause birds to develop beaks.
And in doing this, the scientists have managed to take chickens back to the age of dinosaurs, or at least partially. The team has created a chicken embryo with a snout and palate identical to the ancestors it evolved from.
Bhullar and Abzhanov say that their intent was not to create a “dino-chicken,” but one has to wonder: What did they expect would happen when they “tweaked” the chicken’s beak genes? The researchers say that their goal was to better understand how birds’ beaks developed, because the structure has been so integral to their survival. There are over 10,000 species of birds, and many of them have specialized beaks that help them thrive in their given environments.
“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,” Dr. Bhullar says assuredly. Dr. Bhullar and the rest of the team extracted DNA from several species, including alligators, in order to clone pieces of genetic material to scout out specific gene expressions.
By using small-molecule inhibitors, the researchers found that they were able to turn off the activity of certain proteins related to beak formation in chicken embryos. The result? The bird beaks reverted back to their roots, and became dinosaur-like snouts instead — and the palatine bone on the roof of the chicken’s mouth also reverted back to its ancestral form.
“This was unexpected and demonstrates the way in which a single, simple developmental mechanism can have wide-ranging and unexpected effects,” Dr. Bhullar commented.
Fortunately, Bhullar and the team do not have any plans or ethical approval for hatching the mutated chickens — at least for now. Bhullar claims that he believes the “birds” — if you can still call them that — would survive just fine.
“These weren’t drastic modifications. They are far less weird than many breeds of chicken developed by chicken hobbyists and breeders. The rest of the animal looked OK, but one needs to think about this carefully from an ethical point of view,” Bhullar says — though many people would probably disagree with this assertion. After all, those birds still have beaks.
Not only is it unethical to breed such creatures, one must think about the potential consequences if it were to go awry. While they can see the physical change to the beak, who knows what other developmental changes could potentially occur? (RELATED: Read more stories like this at GeneticLunacy.com)