Scientists Grow Chicken Embryos With Dino Snouts
As part of an effort to learn about beak evolution
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2015 1:54 PM CDT
Birds' evolution from dinosaurs was first suggested with the 19th-century discovery of the fossil of an early bird called Archaeopteryx.   (AP Photo/Luis Chiappe)

(Newser) – It sounds straight out of Jurassic Park: Researchers have successfully created chicken embryos with what LiveScience frames as Velociraptor-like snouts. It's an end that has its beginning in a bird-dino quandary described by Carl Zimmer at the New York Times: "Even the most exquisitely preserved fossil can't tell us which pieces of DNA had to change in order to turn ground-running dinosaurs into modern birds." When it comes to birds' beaks specifically, scientists have understood the parts—premaxillae, the pair of cranial bones that hold some of our own teeth, fused to form the beak. But the genetic changes that facilitated the evolution from a snout weren't known.

Zimmer digs deep into the science of the beak reversion, as detailed in the journal Evolution (it's worth a read), but the BBC puts it in layman's terms: The researchers "isolated the proteins that would have gone on to develop beaks. Then they suppressed them using tiny beads coated with an inhibiting substance." And voila: Instead of fused beaks, unfused and rounded bones began to develop. Lead researcher Bhart-Anjan Bhullar specifies that what was altered were gene-produced proteins, not genes, and therefore they're weren't genetically modifying the chickens. And those embryos didn't come to term. "They actually probably wouldn't have done that badly if they did hatch," he tells LiveScience. "Mostly, though, we were interested in the evolution of the beak, and not in hatching a 'dino-chicken' just for the sake of it."