Jurassic Chicken

March 7th, 2009at 01:12pm Posted by Eli

What could possibly go wrong?

Some of the world’s leading paleontologists are attempting to recreate a dinosaur — or something a lot like a dinosaur — by starting with a chicken embryo and working backward to engineer a “chickenosaurus” or “dinochicken,” project leader Jack Horner told Discovery News.


“Birds are dinosaurs, so technically we’re making a dinosaur out of a dinosaur,” said Horner, a professor of paleontology at Montana State University and curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies.


“A number of people in a number of different places are moving forward with the project slowly and carefully,” he said.

One such researcher is Hans Laarson of McGill University in Montreal. Laarson and his team are analyzing the genes involved in tail development and researching ways of manipulating chicken embryos in order to “awaken the dinosaur within.”


Other medical breakthroughs could also occur, he said, since “genomes made of genes made of switches” function similarly in all animals, including humans.

There is no danger of the proposed dinochicken escaping and populating the world with dinosaurs, Horner said, since only the chicken’s development, and not its genome, would have been affected. If the creature did somehow escape and could mate, the result would just be a regular chicken.


Kevin Padian, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley and a curator at the UC Museum of Paleontology, told Discovery News he supports the project.

“The important thing that Jack and Jim are saying here is that there is a lot of information stored in our genes that we don’t use — genes that determine features that evolution has suppressed, for various reasons,” Padian said.

“We now have the tools to ‘reverse-engineer’ some of those constraints and produce traits that look a bit more like those ancient features,” he added. “This tells us how genetics, development and evolution are related, so it’s tremendously important.”

When and if the dinochicken is created, Horner looks forward to bringing it out on a leash during lectures.

So how long before someone tries this with other animals, or even people?  The bioethicists will have a field day.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science,Weirdness

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