Canadian scientist aims to turn chickens into dinosaurs

August 25, 2009
Chicken at a market. After years spent hunting for the buried remains of prehistoric animals, a Canadian paleontologist now plans to manipulate chicken embryos to show he can create a dinosaur.

After years spent hunting for the buried remains of prehistoric animals, a Canadian paleontologist now plans to manipulate chicken embryos to show he can create a dinosaur.

Hans Larsson, the Canada Research Chair in Macro Evolution at Montreal's McGill University, said he aims to develop dinosaur traits that disappeared millions of years ago in birds.

Larsson believes by flipping certain genetic levers during a chicken embryo's development, he can reproduce the dinosaur anatomy, he told AFP in an interview.

Though still in its infancy, the research could eventually lead to hatching live prehistoric animals, but Larsson said there are no plans for that now, for ethical and practical reasons -- a dinosaur hatchery is "too large an enterprise."

"It's a demonstration of evolution," said Larsson, who has studied bird for the last 10 years.

"If I can demonstrate clearly that the potential for dinosaur anatomical development exists in birds, then it again proves that are direct descendants of dinosaurs."

The research is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canada Research Chairs program and National Geographic.

The idea for the project, Larsson said, came about during discussions with renowned American paleontologist Jack Horner, who served as technical advisor for the Jurassic Park films.

Horner recently wrote a book entitled "How to Build A Dinosaur," in which he refers to the embryo experiment as part of a quest to create a "chickenosaurus."

Larsson's team has previously worked to uncover prehistoric animal remains, including eight unknown species of and five new types of crocodile in Niger. He also recently uncovered the remains of a new carnivorous dinosaur in Argentina.


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25 comments

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laserdaveb
3 / 5 (5) Aug 25, 2009
Crap.....go watch that movie maybe...365 times..then go REAL slow....on a space station!jurst in case..
gmurphy
3.8 / 5 (4) Aug 25, 2009
physical characteristics are one thing, subtle neurological constructs which might constitute instinct are very different, and we may never know if the reconstituted dinosaur phenotypes are in any way true reflections of their ancestors
Damon_Hastings
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 25, 2009
Do we really have to go all Dr Moreau just to prove chickens descended from dinosaurs?
defunctdiety
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 25, 2009
"It's a demonstration of evolution," said Larsson, who has studied bird evolution for the last 10 years.

Close... it would be a demonstration of DE-evolution, actually, sir...
Damon_Hastings
4 / 5 (4) Aug 25, 2009
It's unclear to me just exactly what this guy plans to do. The title of the article is "Canadian scientist aims to turn chickens into dinosaurs", but the article says "a dinosaur hatchery is too large an enterprise." So what exactly *does* he aim to do? Grow chickenosaurus embryos and kill them before they hatch? Create a computer simulation? A theoretical proof?
LariAnn
2.5 / 5 (8) Aug 25, 2009
Actually, wouldn't it be a demonstration of intelligently-directed evolution (or de-evolution), since an intelligent human mind is the motive factor for the execution of the experiment? The chicken is not going to turn into a dinosaur randomly, after all, now, is it?

Also, it would not prove that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs, but that birds are genetically related to dinosaurs, which is definitely not the same thing scientifically.
defunctdiety
3 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2009
Actually, wouldn't it be a demonstration of intelligently-directed evolution (or de-evolution), since an intelligent human mind is the motive factor for the execution of the experiment? The chicken is not going to turn into a dinosaur randomly, after all, now, is it?

Also, it would not prove that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs, but that birds are genetically related to dinosaurs, which is definitely not the same thing scientifically.

De-evolution is not a naturally occurring process, I might argue that it therefore connotates "third-party" influence by default... and intelligently directed evolution is still just evolution, so long as it makes the given life form more likely to successfully procreate, even if just in the context of the intelligent direction. So he's not evolving anything. I'm actually rather surprised that what he's proposing isn't laughed out of the scientific community...

And this is because it 1.) would never prove anything that we don't already know by more sound means and 2.) it would only demonstrate that the DNA of a chicken can be altered to phenotypically and morphologically resemble what is observed in a small segment of the dinosaur fossil record. i.e. he'd just be engaging in ethically unsound practices to make a chicken look like a dinosaur, not creating a dinosaur.

Chances are it will also probably result in something pretty inhumane (crippled? sterile? dead at birth?)...
thales
5 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2009
Gives new meaning to the phrase, "Hmm... tastes like chicken."
Damon_Hastings
3 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2009
"No, no more doctors... no more experiments... I thought that you, of all people, would understand..."
Damon_Hastings
3 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2009
(note for the classic-movie-challenged: that's a famous Dr Moreau quote, spoken by a genetic experiment gone wrong)
Damon_Hastings
3.3 / 5 (3) Aug 25, 2009
....which I horribly butchered. :-P Here's the actual quote:

"No. No more scientists. No more laboratories. No more experiments. I thought you'd be able to understand that."

(Imagine this as spoken by the chickenosaurus. :)
rfw
1 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2009
Chicken little comes to mind. The sky is falling, the sky is falling,the sky is falling... When chicken little becomes chicken BIG, after the sky has fallen chicken BIG will go hunting... and not for bugs!

OK peeps, how many more B movie plots can we think up?
eric_in_chicago
not rated yet Aug 25, 2009
And, what would this new organism say if it could talk in response to the question, "What does the McGill University staff taste like?"

"Tastes like chicken."

I can't wait to see half-chicken, half thunderlizards with razor sharp rows of teeth.

"I am Chicken. Hear me ROAR!!!"
ZeroDelta
3 / 5 (2) Aug 26, 2009
maybe I can finally get dino-Mc nuggets


proves evolution by unleashing dino DNA
Danie
1 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2009
To be quite honest, since that show some years ago where they dug up the Mammoth, I was wondering how long it will be for something like this to happen...

Granted, Mammoth is a few years younger than dinosaurs, but just the general idea of trying to bring back extinct animals.

All I have to say is, there is a reason as to why they went extinct without the help of modern humans...
CreepyD
1 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2009
I saw a tv show about scientists doing this at least 6 months ago, complete with pics of little chicken embryos with razor sharp teeth developing.

Why can't they let them hatch and see what they look like!
david_42
4 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2009
The point of the research is to demonstrate that the dinosaur traits are preserved in the chicken genome. This is arguably the strongest possible validation of evolution. Growing teeth in chicken embryos is an interesting demonstration of the same principle, just not as much fun.
Damon_Hastings
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 26, 2009
Also, it would not prove that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs, but that birds are genetically related to dinosaurs, which is definitely not the same thing scientifically.

Why wouldn't it prove they're descendants? Since the scientist is merely activating genes already in the chicken's genome, it seems like this would prove that the dinosaur genome is embedded within the chicken genome, and that could only happen if they're direct descendants, not cousins. Humans are "related to" flying squirrels, but that doesn't mean we have the gene for glider wings somewhere in our DNA. You can only inherit genes from direct ancestors.
SmartK8
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 26, 2009
I see a promising Ig Nobel candidate for this year. I hope, he can still make it on the list. Not to sound too pessimistic. I can give him a direction for the next research. Proving the gravity by jumping from a roof of a skyscraper. There's a possibility for the Darwin award as well. Anyway I can drop my charges for a free ticket to enter that park. I know the whereabouts of the chaos theory quite well.
arrowrod
not rated yet Aug 26, 2009
It occurs to me that a catalog of "Characteristics" can be developed and the resultant animal built (created) in the not to distant future.

My nomination: the Rachel Welch build.
Damon_Hastings
3 / 5 (2) Aug 26, 2009
It occurs to me that a catalog of "Characteristics" can be developed and the resultant animal built (created) in the not to distant future.

Not just animals...

When children are custom-designed for maximum beauty, will beauty still have meaning? I'm pretty sure the answer is "yes" for intelligence, but I'm not sure about beauty...
defunctdiety
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2009
We have no idea what people will want by then. You are assuming that future people will have your values and that your values would be good or right for them.

It's arguable none of it would be good for society. As it's not going to be available to anyone except those with the money. Seems like all kinds of discrimination and neo-racism or eugenics issues could stem from it.
Infernobones95
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2009
does that mean that we will soon be able to dine on some genetically engineered dinosour? t-rex burgers sound delicious.
Tachyon8491
1 / 5 (4) Aug 29, 2009
I suggest that male Chickenosaurs be devocalised in the embryonic stage as a 128db 1MJ wake-up crowing at dawn might be discovered to be too destructive for anything less resilient than prestressed concrete structures apart from possibly causing cerebral acoustic impact damage to the brains of researchers.
Shaffer
1 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2009
"It's a demonstration of evolution," said Larsson, who has studied bird evolution for the last 10 years.


So, how much have the birds evolved in ten years?

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