Scientists have manipulated chicken embryos to grow snouts similar to those of dinosaurs. No, it’s not a publicity stunt for the upcoming “Jurassic World.” Instead, a team of Yale and Harvard scientists wanted to study how beaks appeared as dinosaurs started evolving into birds around 150 million years ago. “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,” Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar, a paleontologist and developmental biologist at Yale, said in a statement. The study will be published on Tuesday in the journal Evolution.
The research team gathered DNA samples from a wide array of animals, including emus, alligators and turtles. They found that two proteins, FGF and Wnt, were expressed differently in birds and reptiles. By blocking those proteins in the chicken embryos, they were able to produce a snout very similar to the ones sported by small dinosaurs like Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx. The same method could be used, Bhullar said, to investigate other evolutionary leaps.