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Last updated on April 25, 2014 at 1:22 EDT

Can You Make A Dinosaur From A Chicken?

August 26, 2009

Canadian Scientist Aims to Reverse Evolution

A Canadian paleontologist is taking his hunt for prehistoric reptiles from the dust and rubble of intense archeological digs to the pristine facilities of a genetic research laboratory.  His goal?  To tweak the DNA of developing chicken embryos to create a dinosaur, à la Jurassic Park.

Hans Larsson, Research Chair in Macro Evolution at McGill University in Montreal, suspects that by manipulating certain key genetic signals during the early phases of a chicken embryo’s ontogeny, he may be able to stimulate the organism into developing features of a dinosaur’s anatomy that have long since vanished into the chicken’s evolutionary past.

“It’s a demonstration of evolution,” said Larsson. “If I can demonstrate clearly that the potential for dinosaur anatomical development exists in birds, then it again proves that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs.”

However, children may have to wait a few years before the pint-sized dinosaurs start showing up under the Christmas tree and at birthday parties.

While Larsson expresses confidence that the project could eventually lead to hatching live dinosaur-like creatures, he also acknowledges that there are a lot of practical and ethical hurdles to overcome first.  For the time being he says, a dino nursery is simply “too large an enterprise.”

Larson credits the idea for the project to lengthy discussions with colleague and now iconic American paleontologist Jack Horner, who first made a name for himself when he discovered the Maiasaura in the mid-1970′s and showed that some dinosaur mothers cared for their young.

In his recent book “How to Build a Dinosaur,” Horner devotes a section to the experimental embryo project, humorously referring to it as the quest to create a “chickenosaurus.”

Larsson, who has devoted the last ten years of his career to studying the evolution of birds, has also discovered eight previously unknown dinosaurs and five new species of crocodile in Niger. Among his most recent co-discoveries was a carnivorous, dog-sized dinosaur, which his team baptized “deltadromeus.”

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