Scientist Bhart-Anjan Bhullar of Yale University produced a dino-chicken by modifying genes of chicken embryos to better understand the relationship between dinosaurs and modern birds.
The Anchiornis dinosaur (left), and the modern chicken (right), shown to have similar beaks.
The genes of a chick were modified by scientists to change its skull development with the aim of understanding the link between dinosaurs and modern birds. Chicken embryos were thus made to grow dinosaur snouts in lab.
“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 Bhart-Anjan Bhullar of Yale University, the lead author of the study, told YaleNews.
Bhullar intended to explore the importance of the beak to birds.
“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,” said Bhullar.
“Yet little work has been done on what exactly a beak is, anatomically, and how it got that way either evolutionarily or developmentally.”
Small-molecule inhibitors were used in the chicken embryos so as to inhibit proteins that are associated with the formation of the chicken beak. The beak structure was thus altered to such an extent that the palatine bone on the roof of the mouth became like that of its evolutionary ancestors.
“This was unexpected and demonstrates the way in which a single, simple developmental mechanism can have wide-ranging and unexpected effects,” Bhullar said.
Bhullar is positive that scientists could resort to similar methodologies to gain more insight into the development of other transformations believed to have happened as a consequence of evolution.