Scientists altered the chicken embryos to get Dinosaur snouts and study the evolution of the ‘avian beaks’.

For the very first time in history, scientists in U.S. have gained success in creating chicken embryos with ‘Dinosaur snouts’ which are broader and more robust similar to the ones which their ancestors had.

‘Avian beak’ is the most important and prominent appendages of the animal kingdom. Scientists sort of carried out reverse bio engineering on the chicken embryo and figured out the genetics that is involved in the formation of the beak. They then tried to modify the protein produced by this gene and ultimately were able to produce Dinosaur snouts in the chicken embryo instead of their normal beaks.

This entire study was an attempt by the scientists to understand the evolution of avian beaks and they feel that it was the genetic transition from one type of snout to another which led to formation of beaks in today’s avian species.

Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, a palaeontologist and developmental biologist, from Yale University and a member of this research team told Science Daily : “The beak is a crucial part of the avian feeding apparatus, and is the component of the avian skeleton that has perhaps diversified most extensively and most radically – consider flamingos, parrots, hawks, pelicans and hummingbirds, among others.”

He further also added: “Yet little work has been done on what exactly a beak is, anatomically, and how it got that way either evolutionary or developmentally.”

Around 19th century scientists discovered fossil of an early bird known as Archaeopteryx. This had wings and feather however it resembled more like dinosaur. Since then scientists have known that dinosaurs are the ancestors of birds and they are trying to study the evolution of avian species. Now, during the early stages of evolution the birds did not look like the modern birds; as they did not have beaks and instead they had snouts which resembled more to their ancestors, the dinosaurs.

Actually the story goes back some sixty five millions ago when an asteroid bumped into Earth and due to enormous impact large number of species were wiped out which included most of the dinosaurs.

However, one group succeeded in surviving the disaster which are referred to as ‘avian dinosaur’, these have evolved into the avian species of present times known as ‘birds’. The fossil record indicates that 150 million years ago, some traditional dinosaurs gradually started transitioning into avian dinosaurs. The transition was accompanied with marked physical changes that included aerodynamic feathers instead of insular also they got wings instead of digits and beaks instead of the ancestral muzzle.

Per the report from Live Science: “The beaks help make up for the dinosaurs’ grasping arms, which evolved into wings, giving them the ability to peck at food such as seeds and bugs.”

Bhullar et al, analyzed and compared the skeletons as well as individual bones of four groups that included modern birds, extinct birds, bird like dinosaurs and the distant reptilian species like alligators and turtles. The main purpose of this analysis was to check the genetic differences among these groups.

Live Science further states: “The researchers focused on two genes that help control the development of the middle of the face. The activity of these genes differed from that of reptiles early in embryonic development. They developed molecules that suppressed the activity of the proteins that these genes produced, which led to the embryos developing snouts that resembled their ancestral dinosaur state.

The team worked on modifying the proteins which are produced by these particular genes that are responsible for the formation of the beak in modern birds. With this the team was successful in controlling the growth of beaks in chicken embryo. As per the team these chicken embryos are now capable of growing wide snouts which will be blunt and more tough with round edges just like Archaeopteryx’s; the only exception being they will not have teeth like their ancestors in addition to the snouts. The scientists told the journal Evolution about their experiment and also mentioned that they had just worked on modifying the protein produced  by the genes and had not modified the particular genes.

Bhullar told Live Science, that these chicken embryos were quite healthy and would have survived however these embryos were not hatched by the biologists. He further added:”They actually probably wouldn’t have done that badly if they did hatch. Mostly, though, we were interested in the evolution of the beak, and not in hatching a ‘dino-chicken’ just for the sake of it.”

Live Science report points out that the chicken embryos were “not genetically modified” indicating the genes were not modified it was just the protein molecules that the scientists modified and were able to get the result under lab conditions.

Live Science hence concluded that if a small modification in protein can make marked difference in one of the prominent appendages of the modern birds, then it surely indicates that there could have been some series of evolutionary changes a few million years ago which might have initiated the gradual transition of dinosaurs to avian dinosaurs and then from these avian dinosaurs to the modern birds which we see today.

Jack Horner, a palaeontologist at Montana State University in Bozeman says: “It gives us a lot of opportunities to think about making new kinds of animals.” With all these difference experiments being conducted, if biologists decide to hatch the modified embryos we might soon see dino chickens roaming around, some animals and reptiles without tails and what all different animals roaming around in a matter of few years!!!

Resource : Science Alert.

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