Scientists have gained some valuable new insight regarding the evolution of bird beaks, thanks to a process through which a chicken’s genes were tweaked in such a way as to induce the growth of a dinosaur’s snout instead of that of a chicken’s.
First reported by Live Science, the process involved the genetic alteration of a chicken embryo in order to create a snout resembling that of a dinosaur. It has long been believed that birds evolved from dinosaurs after having surviving the cataclysmic event which its ancestor did not.
Published in the journal Evolution, the research was conducted in order to enhance understanding of this evolutionary relationship shared by the two species. Despite this close genetic connection, there is a major difference exhibited by the jaws of modern day birds and those of dinosaurs of the past.
CBC News indicated in a report that by blocking several proteins during the formation of the chicken embryo, scientists were able to successfully eradicate the difference in beaks. What happened was that the chicken’s jaws took the shape of a velociraptor’s snout. Moreover, the bird’s palates also exhibited a significant resemblance to that of the extinct reptile.
In regards to the experiment, lead researcher Bhart-Anjan Bhullar said:
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 (…) There are between 10,000 and 20,000 species of birds alive today, at least twice as many as the total number of mammal species, and so in many ways it is still the Age of Dinosaurs.
Bhullar and his fellow researchers narrowed their research to beaks due to the varying forms seen in different birds and their dissimilarity with the remainder of their body, as he explained that the “beak is a crucial part of the avian feeding apparatus” which “is the component of the avian skeleton that has perhaps diversified most extensively and most radically” while “little” has been done to determine exactly what beaks are and how they got that way.
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. Yet little work has been done on what exactly a beak is, anatomically, and how it got that way either evolutionarily or developmentally (…) This was unexpected and demonstrates the way in which a single, simple developmental mechanism can have wide-ranging and unexpected effects.
What are your thoughts on this breakthrough Jurassic Park-esque experiment in which researchers grew a raptor’s beak on a chicken?