Scientists in Chile Just Turned a Chicken Into a Half-Dinosaur. Welcome to 2016.
In your typical dose of strange science news, scientists have grown dinosaur-like legs on a chicken for the first time in history. Researchers at the Universidad de Chile performed the intricate task of switching off a gene known as the Indian Hedgehog in a chicken embryo. This gene is responsible for the development of a chicken's bones.
"The experiments are focused on single traits, to test specific hypotheses," Alexander Vargas, the head of the research lab where the group of scientists performed the experiment, said earlier this month. "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."
When the gene is turned off — a complex process not involving any sort of manipulation or gene addition — a chicken's legs will grow into legs with fibulas similarly structured to that of a raptor's, and the findings could have huge implications for the history of evolution.
"Any one that has eaten roasted chicken can account for the presence in the drumstick (lower leg) of a long, spine-like bone," the study's summary noted. "This is actually the fibula, one of the two long bones of the lower leg (the outer one). In dinosaurs, which are the ancestors of birds, this bone is tube-shaped and reaches all the way down to the ankle."
"Researchers have found that when a maturation gene called Indian Hedgehog was inhibited, this resulted in chickens that kept a tubular fibula as long as the tibia and connected to the ankle, just like a dinosaur."
It may be the first time researchers successfully morphed the legs of a chicken to resemble its distant relative, but it isn't the first time science tested the relationship between chicken and dinosaur genes. LiveScience reported in May last year that researchers successfully converted a chicken's beak into that of a snout similar to its dino-predecessors.
"From a quantitative point of view, we're 50 percent there," professor of paleontology at Montana State University Jack Horner said of the project in 2015. "This dino-chicken project — we can liken it to the moon project. ... We know we can do it; it's just there are ... some huge hurdles."
So, will science ever be able to bring back dinosaurs through chickens? Moreover, what will they be called? "Chickenosaurus?" "Velocichicken?" We better come up with these answers sooner rather than later, as scientists continue to break through these hurdles.
Chickens have yet to respond to the breaking developments.