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Scientists Create Chicken With Alligator Snout

August 19, 2011

Scientists have altered chicken DNA to create embryos that have alligator-like snouts instead of beaks.

Experts changed the DNA of chicken embryos and enabled them to undo evolutionary progress to give the creatures snouts, which are thought to have been lost in the cretaceous period.

This research of “rewinding” evolution could help set science on a new path to alter DNA in the other direction and create species better able to adapt to Earth’s climate.

Arkhat Abzhanov, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, developed the chickens with snouts by cutting a square hole in the shell of a chicken edge and dropping in a small gelatinous protein bead.

The changes allowed separate molecules on the side of the face free to grow into snouts within 14 days.

Abzhanov said he hopes to complete the work one day by turning chickens into Maniraptora.  Maniraptora are small dinosaurs which are thought to have helped spawn thousands of species of birds that exist today.

He made the changes by analyzing the “signaling molecules” which control the anatomical changes in birds and other animals.

Adding protein beads to the egg stifles the development of certain molecules so it prevents the birds from growing certain features.

Dr Abzhanov told the New Scientist: “It looks exactly like a snout looks in an alligator [at this stage].”

A University of Montana leading paleontologist, Jack Horner, is conducting similar work in an attempt to make a “chickenosaurus” with a tail and hands similar to those of a dinosaur.

Craig Albertson, a developmental biologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, said in a press release: “Abzhanov’s ‘snouted’ chicken provides a striking demonstration of just how easy it can be to provoke major evolutionary changes.”

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