Chickens With Dinosaur Snouts

Biologists have been working to understand the evolution and developmental biology of bird beaks. Research has shown that birds have a small set of genes associated with the development of the middle of their faces, while reptiles don't.

So the scientists 'knocked out' those genes in chicken embryos (stopped them from expressing) and lo and behold, produced chickens with many of the facial features associated with snouts in fossil dinosaurs such as Velociraptors. Some of the features of the birds' palates (roof of their mouths) changed too, to match what's observed in dinosaur fossils.

Interestingly, the fossil record seems to show that the various anatomical effects of doing this appear together. Among bird-ancestors in the fossil record, there are examples with the dinosaur configuration of features, and suddenly beaked examples appear with the bird configuration. (Punctuated equilibrium, I guess some might call that.)

Now they have a clue as to why that happened and why all of these features appeared at once. There may have been a single genetic change in genes controlling the developmental biology of the organisms' heads responsible for it.

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