Palaeontologist Jack Horner wants a pet dinosaur. (I’m right there with you, Jack.) And according to his TED talk, we’re actually getting closer to making Jurassic Park a reality. Thanks to chickens.
Researchers have already been able to create a chicken with teeth by using atavism activation, a process where one stimulates a leftover gene from an ancestral version of your chosen test subject. Chickens, Horner says, are dinosaurs – avian dinosaurs, to be exact. And in embryotic form, they exhibit some similarities with their 60-million-year-old reptilian cousins (like having a longer tail or hands/fingers instead of wings). But as the embryo grows, a gene kicks in to shorten the tail or change the structure of the hands. And so we’re left with a boring, albeit tasty, “bird” that can’t even fly.
But creating a Chickenosaurus, researchers believe, is the first step towards realizing Michael Crichton’s (and Jack Horner’s) dream. And since we’ve learned our lesson from the 1993 blockbuster, I’m pretty sure nothing would go wrong if they succeed in cloning a Tyrannosaurs Rex or, better yet, a monstrous, tooth-filled chicken with hands. [TED]