Rewinding Evolution from Bird Beak to Dinosaur Snout

Evolutionary scientists say they can backtrack evolution from bird beak to dinosaur snout by preventing expression of beak-building genes in chicken embryos. They believe they have uncovered a transitional form in bird evolution. But have they actually unveiled the evolutionary default form of a bird's mouth? Just what would be required to transform a bird into a dinosaur, and what would a step in such a direction mean?

Undoing Development

Despite recent discoveries of dinosaur soft tissue, intact dinosaur DNA likely no longer exists, making a Jurassic Park-style dinosaur resurrection a pipe dream. Even paleontologist Jack Horner, consultant on the Jurassic movies, says so. However, evolutionary scientists from Harvard and Yale believe they have found a way to turn back the clock on bird evolution to "re-establish the ancestral condition."

Yale's Bhart-Anjan Bhullar and Harvard's Arhat Abzhanov inhibited growth factors in chicken embryos to switch off genes for beak formation. This would, they hoped, allow the supposed ancestral dinosaur snout to form instead of the beak as a result of "ancestral gene expression." The beakless snouts on the defective birds resemble those of dinosaurs and alligators. The researchers therefore believe they have identified a dinosaur-to-bird transition not preserved in the fossil record.

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