Dawn Of The Chickenosaurus: Successful 'Reverse Evolution' Results In Chickens With Dinosaur Snout, Legs, And Feet

Scientists have successfully used "reverse evolution" to engineer chickens with dinosaur snouts, feet, and even leg bones. While a Chickenosaurus seems like something from a spoof sci-fi movie, researchers have confirmed that they were successful in using "reverse evolution" to give modern chickens the features of their ancient dinosaur ancestors. In fact, scientists say that they are positive that they can create a dino-chicken in the future and are 50 percent there.

Live Science reports that scientists have used "reverse evolution" to modify the beak of a chicken to resemble the snout of a dinosaur. Jack Horner, a professor of paleontology at Montana State University and a curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, says that creating a full-scale Chickenosaurus is not out of the question and actually advocates for not only creating the creature but also raising them. Horner notes that with success in turning the beak of the chicken into a snout, scientists are 50 percent done with such a feat.

"From a quantitative point of view, we're 50 percent there."
However, it was noted that turning the chicken beak into a snout was not a quick process. In fact, it took scientists seven years to perform the successful reverse evolution. The beak-to-snout project was completed by Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, a paleontologist and developmental biologist currently at the University of Chicago who is cross-appointed at Yale University, along with doctoral advisor Arkhat Abzhanov, a developmental biologist at Harvard University. Interestingly, Bhullar and Abzhanov were not the only ones working on a chicken-dinosaur hybrid thanks to "reverse evolution."

Scientists at the University of Chile have also successfully used reverse evolution in chickens to recreate dinosaur parts. The researchers with the University of Chile, including Brazilian researcher Joâo Botelho, have engineered the chickens' modern splintered fibula into its former dinosaur state which is longer and more tube-shaped.

Chicken and Dinosaur fibula
Researchers show the differences in modern day chicken bones and those of their dinosaur ancestors. Researchers have used "reverse" evolution to recreate the dinosaur fibula in modern chickens. (Image via University of Chile)

The University of Chile has also modified using "reverse evolution" chicken feet from an opposable toe used for perching to a dinosaur's non-opposable toe.

"Only a few experiments are known to recover dinosaur traits in birds (such as a dinosaur-like shank and tooth-like structures). The undoing of the perching digit is thus an important new addition, and the results have now been published in Scientific Reports, an open-access journal of the Nature Publishing Group."

With numerous successful reverse evolution projects being performed on chickens, it seems that Horner is correct in stating that it isn't a matter of if the Chickenosaurus will make his debut but when.

"This dino-chicken project — we can liken it to the moon project. We know we can do it; it's just there are … some huge hurdles."
Chicken with dinosaur traits
Scientists successfully transform the modern chicken toe into that of its dinosaur ancestors. (Image via Universidad de Chile. "From chicken to dinosaur: Scientists experimentally 'reverse evolution' of perching toe." ScienceDaily)

While the dino-chicken may seem like a pointless project on the surface, researchers working on the projects note that it is all about understanding genes and learning how to effectively manipulate them. Horner says that with a better understanding of the genes, we could create pretty much anything we can think up in our heads and make it a reality, even glow-in-the-dark unicorns.

"We [could] make a dino-chicken, and we [could] make a glow-in-the-dark unicorn. Basically, we can make anything we want, I think, once we understand the genes."
Like Horner, Botelho sees the dino-chicken as a benefit to the scientific community. When discussing the success of the non-opposable toe project, Botelho noted that "the experiments prove that interactions about organ systems channel the directions of organismal evolution."

What do you think about the idea of a Chickenosaurus roaming the earth for scientific study? Does reverse evolution hold all the answers to how earth's life blueprint works? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

[Image via Shutterstock]