Yale Scientists Grow Dino Snouts on Chicken Embryos

Posted on May 22, 2015

Scientists have grown dinosaur snouts on chicken embryos for the first time. Researchers from Yale say they have replicated the molecular processes that led from dinosaur snouts to the first bird beaks. Chicken embryos in the lab grew a snout and palate that was similar to that of Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx. The artist's rendition above shows the nonavian dinosaur Anchiornis and a modern tinamou.

The research team was led by Yale paleontologist and developmental biologist Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar and Harvard developmental biologist Arhat Abzhanov. Bullar says in a statement, "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."

The scientists were looking to find the molecular mechanism involved in creating the skeleton of the beak in a chicken. They studied gene expression in the embryos of other animals. They found that birds differ from mammals in having a unique, median gene expression zone of two different facial development genes early in embryonic development.

The scientists used small-molecule inhibitors to eliminate the activity of the proteins produced by this bird-specific, median signaling zone in chicken embryos. The beak structure reverted to a dinosaur-like beak. Even the palatine bone on the roof of the chicken embryos reverted to its ancestral state.

Bhullar says, "This was unexpected and demonstrates the way in which a single, simple developmental mechanism can have wide-ranging and unexpected effects."

Although it was not the goal of the scientists they do think the chicken embryos would have been able to survive with dinosaur snouts. Bhullar tells BBC News, "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."

A research paper on the reverted chicken embryos was published here in the journal Evolution.

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