Weird Nature

Thanks, Science! Scientists Engineered A Chicken To Have A Dinosaur Face  

Kate Jacobson
72.1k views 3 items

Science - it's given us lots of great things. Medicine, cleaner energy, chickens with beaks that look like a dinosaur's snout... Yes, you read that correctly. Scientists engineered chicken embryos to revert their beak structure to that of their long-lost ancestor, the dinosaur.

Believe it or not, chickens (and ducks) are distant relatives of crazy, scary dinosaurs. Scientists from several major universities wanted to see whether they could tinker with chicken DNA to give it a more dinosaur-like look. What resulted was, well, cool but definitely also terrifying. 

By Tinkering With The Molecular Processes, Scientists Gave Chickens Dinosaur-Like Snouts
By Tinkering With The Molecula... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Thanks, Science! Scientists Engineered A Chicken To Have A Dinosaur Face
Photo: rbanks/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0

While the process of giving a chicken a dinosaur face sounds hard, the method behind it is actually pretty simple. Scientists from Harvard and Yale Universities theorized that they could give a chicken a more velociraptor-like snout if they tinkered with the molecular process of face formation while a chicken was still in the egg. If they introduced different genes not normally found in the development process of a chicken, they could get the chicken's genes to respond differently and, in turn, give it a new face.

Their main objective wasn't to create a dino-chicken, though. Researchers were studying evolutionary transformations, specifically how birds developed beaks and what exactly they're used for. The experiment looked at the molecular processes of multiple animals, which led to scientists experimenting with splicing genes from other animals with chickens. 

They Isolated Facial Development Genes Of Multiple Animals
They Isolated Facial Developme... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Thanks, Science! Scientists Engineered A Chicken To Have A Dinosaur Face
Photo: Harvard University/Imgur

Also included in this experiment were alligators, lizards, and turtles. Scientists determined that there are two proteins directing a chicken embyro's face in its formation. They also determined what genes caused reptiles' faces to form. Then, they figured out exactly when and how these proteins aid in development for both types of animals.

The bones that form snouts in reptiles (and previously in dinosaurs) create jaws. Those same bones create the chicken beak too. But birds evolved so those bones were longer and fused together at the end, making the pointed beak we know today. Researchers weren't sure what evolutionary reason caused the bones to fuse together, but they theorized that if they stopped the protein, it would create a snout.

And they were right. When they blocked the protein, chicken skeletal embryos showed differences. None of them had full-on snouts, but they did have a flap of skin covering where the beak should have been - a definite change. 

Don't Worry - They Aren't Hatching It Anytime Soon
Don't Worry - They Aren't Hatc... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Thanks, Science! Scientists Engineered A Chicken To Have A Dinosaur Face
Photo: Imgur

The team of scientists never hatched the eggs for a few reasons. The biggest one was that they didn't want to create dino-chickens; they wanted to understand why chickens evolved the way they did. And also they didn't have clearance in their research to do so. 

And even if they did hatch one of these guys, one of the lead researchers, Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, said there wouldn't be too much of a visual change. According to Bhullar, the chickens' skulls definitely showed an alteration, but if you were to look at them (and not just their skulls) you wouldn't be able to tell a big difference.