Scientists Grow Chickens With Dinosaur Legs

'With one small modification, millions of years of evolution can be undone'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2016 6:30 PM CDT
Scientists Grow Chickens With Dinosaur Legs
Scientists were able to grow chicken embryos with dinosaur-like legs by manipulating a single gene.   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

(Newser) – Scientists—presumably so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think whether they should—have grown chickens with dinosaur legs, reports. More accurately, a team at the University of Chile grew chicken embryos with dinosaur-like fibulas. In modern birds, the fibula is shorter than the tibia and is "splinter-like," according to the study published earlier this month in Evolution. Discover Magazine reports that by suppressing the Indian Hedgehog Homolog gene—which all animals, including humans, have—scientists spurred an ankle bone in chicken embryos to produce a bone-growing protein. This resulted in a fibula that kept growing until it was longer and more tube-like, similar to the legs of theropods—the dinosaur ancestors of modern birds.

Birds evolved from theropods more than 145 million years ago, and scientists believe their leg bones changed as their bodies got lighter. But, as Discover puts it, "with one small modification, millions of years of evolution can be undone," showing "echoes of the dinosaurs remain in the DNA of birds today." In addition to showing the genetic link between dinosaurs and birds, scientists are hoping to explain the genetic changes that occur during evolution. Last year, the same team grew chicken embryos with dinosaur-like feet. And US scientists were able to do the same for dinosaur-like snouts. (Scientists have finally stopped fighting about what killed the dinosaurs.)

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