So, there’s this guy — an actual paleontologist — who’s trying to reverse-genetically-engineer chickens into dinosaurs. You can make the legitimate point that chickens, like all birds, are already dinosaurs. However, as an actual paleontologist, Jack Horner would like to bring back something that actually looks like a dinosaur is supposed to look. He wants to turn chickens into something with a long tail (that’s an actual tail, not just a bunch of feathers hanging off the butt), short stubby arms (instead of wings), and a beakless mouth with teeth. His goal is to create something that looks basically like tiny velociraptors.
Back in 2009, Horner wrote a book about this, and in 2011 he delivered a TED Talk. Then, a couple weeks ago, someone from the Washington Post apparently called him up and said, “so! Those dinosaurs! How’s it going?” (Given the time of year, I’m sort of wondering if reporter Jackson Landers has a small child who handed him a Christmas wish list with “pet dinosaur” on it.)
Horner is convinced that we’ll have miniature velociraptors running around in ten years, or maybe even five, with some luck. The article notes that a different scientist (Matthew Harris, Professor of Genetics at the Harvard Medical School) has successfully grown chicken embryos with teeth, by re-activating some strand of DNA. A different article, from 2006, admits that the teeth come along with some fatal defects, which is why it’s chicken embryos with teeth and not actual chickens.
Matthew Harris, unlike Jack Horner, is not an advocate for re-creating dinosaurs.
Technically, you are going to have a messed-up chicken. It’s not a dinosaur. It’s never going to be a dinosaur. It’s just going to be a really awful monstrosity.
The rationale for his research is not, “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if chickens had teeth?” but rather “what sort of latent potential still exists in other animals or ourselves? How does that equate to ideas about repair or medicine?” Pffft. Bring on the velociraptors.
The article goes on to emphasize that Horner thinks that creating chickens with sharp teeth, long tails, and stubby, fingered arms instead of not-terribly-effective wings would have all sorts of long-term useful scientific benefits for stuff like human medicine. And sure, no knowledge is wasted, blah blah blah. You know what? TINY VELOCIRAPTORS. How is this not a legitimate scientific goal all by itself? Unless you’re a lawyer who took that one movie scene a bit personally…
…or you’re strongly of the “this never ends well” school of thought about scientists Meddling With Nature.
Did I mention that the research is being funded by George Lucas? Yes, that George Lucas. Almost makes up for Episode 1, doesn’t it? (Almost.)