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Meet the 'dino-chicken,' newly created in a laboratory

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Friday, May 15, 2015, 11:42 AM -

A team of scientists have managed to create a chicken embryo with a dinosaur-like snout in order to study the evolution of the beak. 

The idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs has been around since the 19th century. The Archaeopteryx, was discovered in the early 1860s and was the first known bird. It had feathers, teeth and a long bony tail.

Courtesy: Yale News 

In an attempt to understand how the beak has changed over time, scientists from Yale and Harvard University conducted a quantitative analysis of the anatomy of related fossils and extant animals to generate a hypothesis about the transition. They then analyzed how jaws formed during embryonic development in birds and other animals including: mice, emus, alligators, lizards and turtles.

Their work took them to multiple places including Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in southern Louisiana and an emu farm in Massachusetts. Researchers extracted DNA from various species in order to clone fragments of genetic material, according to Yale News. The results were published in the journal Evolution.

"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 said in a Yale News statement.

Courtesy: Journal Evolution

As a result, researchers were able to block two proteins that are triggered when the chicken embryos start to grow their beaks, altering gene expression. They were successful in reverting the beak structure, causing the palatine bone on the roof of the mouth to go back to its ancestral state.

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

Although researchers are not planning on hatching the 'dino-chickens,' Bhullar told BBC Earth that he believes they would have been able to survive "just fine."

"These weren't drastic modifications," said Bhullar. "They are far less weird than many breeds of chicken developed by chicken hobbyists and breeders." He added, "The rest of the animal looked OK, but one needs to think about this carefully from an ethical point of view."

If chickens and dinosaurs sound like a strange combination, a newly discovered dinosaur species in Chile has researchers scratching their heads. The 'chilesaurus,' is a platypus-type species because it possessed a strange combination of characteristics, seemingly made up from a variety of different dinosaur groups.

Source: Yale University | journal Evolution | BBC Earth 

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