Scientists Grow "Dinosaur Legs" in Chicken Embryos

Monday, 14 March 2016 - 2:25PM
Genetic Engineering
Monday, 14 March 2016 - 2:25PM
Scientists Grow "Dinosaur Legs" in Chicken Embryos
It's said that dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago, but we technically still have dinosaurs running around Earth today (or at least their descendants). Modern-day birds evolved from certain species of dinosaurs, and now scientists have used birds to bring a little piece of the dinosaurs back. In a study published in Evolution, researchers announced that they had successfully grown "dinosaur legs" in chicken embryos.

Scientists have been trying to "bring the dinosaurs back" by genetically manipulating birds for some time now. Last year, a research team was able to grow a dinosaur "beak" on chickens, and paleontologist Jack Horner has famously proposed creating a "chickenosaurus" by genetically modifying modern birds. By using a method called atavism activation, or modifying animals so they genetically express ancestral traits, researchers are attempting to bring the dinosaurs back, piece-by-piece.

For this study, scientists from the University of Chile focused on the dinosaurs' distinctive leg bones. Avian dinosaurs like the Archaeopteryx had long leg bones--the fibula and tibia--that stretched from the torso all the way down to the ankle. But over the course of evolution, the fibula became shorter and shorter until it splintered off at the ends and failed to connect to the ankle.

The researchers found that the certain genes, including a maturation gene called the Indian Hedgehog, were actively inhibiting leg growth during development. By turning off the expression of this gene, the chickens' fibula grew to as long as the tibia, and reached all the way to the ankle, just like a dinosaur leg. 

Dinosaur Legs

Of course, we're still a far cry from Jurassic Park, especially since the embryos never even reached the hatching stage. But the experiment was still groundbreaking in terms of its insight into the evolution process of avian dinosaurs into modern birds.
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"The experiments are focused on single traits to test specific hypotheses," one of the team, Alexander Vargas, told Phys.org. "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."
Closing quote

Via Science Alert.
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Genetic Engineering

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