Scientists in Chile have managed to allow chicken embryos to grow dinosaur-like legs by manipulating DNA. The chickens used in the experiments developed tubular, dinosaur-like fibulas on their lower legs much like those of avian dinosaurs. Birds are the closet descendants to some species of dinosaur and researchers are trying to establish how birds have evolved from having long tubular fibula, which were found in avian dinosaurs, to short splinter-like fibula which birds like chickens exhibit.
According to Science Alert, Joao Botelho from the University of Chile, together with his team, achieved their results by inhibiting the expression of a gene called IHH which triggered the chickens to grow longer fibulae. Chickens usually have long fibulae when in embryonic form but they shorten as the chick develops. It is this that the scientists want to manipulate to understand why this happens.
The team discovered that during their manipulation process, normally fibulae of modern chickens are actively blocked from reaching the lengths of their ancient relatives’ bones. When the IHH gene was switched off, however, the fibula was able to grow longer like in a Archaeopteryx, a type of dinosaur.
Alexander Vargas, a member of the research team, says that they are not aiming to produce any ‘dinosaurs’ and did not allow the chicks to develop to maturity. He states that “the experiments are focused on single traits to test specific hypotheses” and the discoveries can lead to more research in the lab.
The experiments are focused on single traits to test specific hypotheses. Not only do we know a great deal about bird development, but also about the dinosaur-bird transition, which is well-documented by the fossil record. This leads naturally to hypotheses on the evolution of development, that can be explored in the lab
The researchers were also involved in an earlier experiment, as reported in BGR, that grew dinosaur-like feet on chickens together with U.S. scientists that grew a dinosaur-like beak on chicken embryos.
The recent research has been published in the journal Evolution.