It is an already known fact that the remaining dinosaurs which survived after an asteroid hit the Earth about sixty-five million years ago have evolved into the birds of today. In order to understand how this happened, scientists wanted to see how the bird beak evolved since the beak is an essential part of the bird’s anatomy. So they manipulated proteins in embryonic chicken cells and turned the beak of a bird into something which looked more like a dinosaur’s snout.
The theory according to which birds evolved from dinosaurs has existed since the 19th century once the fossil of Archaeopteryx, which is an early bird, was found. The fossil had wings and feathers but at the same time it was very similar to a dinosaur. In order to understand how dinosaurs evolved into birds researchers of Yale University in New Haven and Harvard University in Cambridge analyzed chicken embryos and searched through changes in the way genes are expressed. They examined the embryos of mice, lizards, turtles, alligators and emus.
The scientists discovered that birds have a singular cluster of genes when it comes to facial development which non-beaked animals do not have. When these genes were silenced the beak structure turned back to its ancient state. The same did the palatal bone from the roof of the mouth. A flap of skin covered the altered skull so the birds’ beak changes could not be observed. In order to observe them the researchers created a digital model of the embryo’s skeleton which enabled them to analyze the subtle resemblances between the birds’ manipulated jaws and ancient creatures such as Archaeopteryx.
Paleontologist Bhart-Anjan Bhullar of the University of Yale, the lead author of the study, does not have any plans or any ethical approval to hatch chickens that have snouts instead of beaks, but he is of the opinion that the birds could have been able to survive very well. He remarked:
“These weren’t drastic modifications. They are far less weird than many breeds of chicken developed by chicken hobbyists and breeders.”
Bhullar explained that the goal of the study was to understand the molecular underpinnings of this important evolutionary transition from dinosaurs to birds. The aim was not to create a “dino-chicken” just for the sake of it.
Some experts are skeptical regarding the study because beak evolution was a very slow process and it cannot be explained through only a couple of proteins and one gene.
Image Source: sci-news.com