Paging Dr. Hammond. Scientists from Yale and Harvard have created a chicken embryo that has a snout and palate configuration similar to dinosaurs such as Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx.
Why did scientists decide to go all Jurassic Park with it?
Ok, so it’s not quite Jurassic Park. Yale paleontologist Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar and Harvard developmental biologist Arhat Abzhanov wanted to better understand the transition from snouts and teeth in dinosaurs to beaks in today’s birds.
“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 Bhullar, lead author of the study, published online May 12 in the journal Evolution.
Bhullar dived deeper into the into why they created this chicken embryo.
“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.”
How did scientists create the embryo? The research took them from alligator nests in Louisiana to an emu farm in Massachusetts. Scientists studied embryos of emus, alligators, lizards and turtles and discovered major living lineages of birds differ from major lineages of non-bird reptiles.
Birds have a median gene expression zone of two different facial development genes during the early stages of embryonic development.
Scientists were able to trigger the ancestral molecular activity and the ancestral anatomy by isolating and eliminating activity in the proteins responsible for beak development.
Not only did this change the beak, it also caused the palatine bone on the roof of the mouth to revert to its ancestral state. This change was “unexpected” according to Bhullar and shows how “a single, simple developmental mechanism can have wide-ranging and unexpected effects.”
Bhullar says this research can be used to better understand other significant evolutionary changes.