How to develop a dino-chicken

Scientists have genetically manipulated chickens to develop lower limbs like those of their dinosaur ancestors.

Free range chickens, UK
Free range chickens. The new development may be a step on the way to recreating ‘Chickenosaurus’. © George Clerk/iStock


Dinosaurs’ lower legs were, like our own, composed of two bones – the tibia and fibula – extending from the knee to the ankle.

In birds, however, the fibula has been reduced to a sliver of bone that stops short of the ankle.

By silencing just a single gene in developing chickens, the scientists have managed to produce birds with the ancestral arrangement.

Previously, the team engineered chickens with dinosaur-like feet that lacked the backward-pointing ‘thumb’ of birds.

They say that the goal is not to recreate dinosaurs Jurassic Park-style, but to understand the evolution of birds.

But might these techniques make it possible to produce birds that look, superficially at least, like their forebears?

“It is certainly possible to produce birds with features once present in their fossil ancestors, but to produce a breeding line with several such traits would require several years, if not decades, of painstaking genetic engineering,” said Alexander Vargas of the University of Chile in Santiago. “And such birds would still be far from the ancient dinosaurs.”

Source Evolution

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