Chicken embryo grown with dinosaur-like legs

Researchers from the Universidad de Chile have managed to grow what looks very much like a dinosaur leg in a chicken embryo, a study published in the journal Evolution reports.

This was done by shutting down the so-called Indian Hedgehog gene, which keeps the fibula within its usual growth patterns, in unborn chicks. Inhibiting the gene caused the leg to grow both longer and spinier. The new leg looked much more like a dinosaur’s than a bird’s.

The purpose of the strange study is to show how evolution works over long periods of time. Because chickens evolved from dinosaurs, this type of ‘reverse evolution’ experiment can help scientists better understand exactly how that process occurred.

“The experiments are focused on single traits to test specific hypotheses,” said study author Alexander Vargas, according to “Not only do we know a great deal about bird development, but also about the dinosaur-bird transition, which is well-documented by the fossil record. This leads naturally to hypotheses on the evolution of development, that can be explored in the lab.”

The study supports the theory that birds evolved from a small type of dinosaur known as a theropod. It also sheds light on genetic shifts in the fossil record that occurred in line with various evolutionary patterns.

The fibula of a chicken is much shorter than the average bird’s. Dinosaurs had fibulae that stretched from the top of their leg all the way down to their ankle. Since both species are related, that contrast led scientists to postulate that a chick’s fibula would look closer to a dinosaur’s than a chicken’s during the early stages of embryonic development, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

By exploiting that process, the team was able to conduct their experiment.

While this is a big step in understanding bird evolution, researchers are a long way from bringing dinosaurs back to life. So far, none of the chick embryos with dinosaur-like legs has hatched successfully.

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