Genetic Tweaks Are Revealing the Dinosaur Traits in Living Chickens


EXCERPT: [...] In work conducted while a Ph.D. student at Harvard University under advisor Arhat Abzhanov, the team found that the large brain, big eyes and short faces of birds are all traits shared with infant dinosaurs, meaning that today’s birds are baby-faces.

But Bhullar hasn’t stopped there. [...] “It’s something to do with more specific patterning genes,” Bhullar says. These are the genetic instructions that tell early embryos how cells should move around to sculpt an adult animal. As detailed in a paper published earlier this year, Bhullar and his colleagues found that making small changes to these patterning genes in chickens allowed them to re-create a face more similar to that of their non-avian dinosaur ancestors. The experiment resulted in chicken embryos “growing to have skeletons that were in many ways more ancestral,” Bhullar says. That included small, rounded jaw bones that “were strikingly more like the ancestral form....”

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