Q: When is a bird not a bird? A: When it’s a… dinosaur?
A group from Harvard University, USA has managed to create a chicken embryo that has a dinosaur-like snout and palate– not too dissimilar to our old movie friends, the Velociraptor. Currently evolutionary theory accepts that birds evolved from dinosaurs, but early birds still retained the snout seen on fossils of dinosaurs (see archaeopteryx, below). The beak has been a vital feature in the survival of birds, but relaitvely little is known about it. To understand why and how the change occurred, as well as what the beak is skeletally and functionally, the group began investigating the processes that make up the beak.
By researching the genetic make-up of birds (chickens, in this case) relative to non-beaked species, the group were able to find a cluster of genes which they believed were responsible for beak development. The group then inhibited the protein expression for the beak, and upon silencing these genes, “accidentally” created their dino-chicken.
While it might not actually be one step closer to Jurassic Park (it kind of is though, right? But of course we wouldn’t want to do that) it does help us understand the evolution of beaks a bit more- and that at some point there was a definite switch to the birds we know today.
H/T – BBC News
Image credit: Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar et al. Evolution, 2015, Accepted.