Want a really big drumstick?
At Popular Science‘s Popsci.com Stuart Fox tells of a McGill University professor with plans to reverse engineer a dinosaur from a chicken. At CanWest news service Ken Meaney writes a lot more soberly that the professor “is working to produce chicken embryos with dinosaur-like features within five years.” AFP declares flatly that the man plans to show he can create a dinosaur.
The silly phrase award goes to a story attributed to “News Staff” at the CTV service in Canada, declaring the vertebrate paleontologist will take the first step “towards hatching live prehistoric animals.” Maybe the News Staff parked its brains outside the door labeled enter here to boost ratings by forsaking truth. Nothing that arises from such work will be a prehistoric anything, so why say it? Just because someone reminds one of somebody doesn’t make him or her that person. A chicken’s spawn with teeth and claws would be many things. But not prehistoric.
The reason for all this? The Canadian news magazine MacLeans last week featured a long story headlined “The quest to build a dinosaur.” It imagines pet dinosaurs in its lede. It says flatly that scientists are planning to hatch dinosaurs from chicken eggs. Really? Did the scientists say they would BE dinosaurs, or be instructively a lot LIKE dinosaurs but of no species of dinosuars that ever lived back in the mesozoic? This is science writing for pure sensation, with flashy bits on the meteor that hit the Yucutan 65 million years ago, and “evo devo’s” “startling discovery that most creatures share many of the same genes.” That’s startling? One finds lots of overheated adjectives in the piece. There is mention of the harebrained idea that Neanderthals might be summoned from the human genome, too. It’s giddy with amped verbiage. Yet, it coheres. Embryonic chickens do have fingers, teeth, a tail, that all get resorbed and morphed into chicken bits. The story might even inspire a few high school slackers to hit the books and become scientists so they can do things like this.
Speaking of ancient history, this is not exactly a fresh story. The general facts raised a media ripple at least once already, in March this year. It is the Dinochicken project loosely organized by famed and flamboyant Montana paleontologist Jack Horner. He’s an author of a book, “How to Build a Dinosaur.” The idea is to take a contemporary bird species – and why not a chicken? – and see if one can revive from its DNA a few remnent sequences left over from its and all birds’ ancestries in the Mesozoic. Maybe get embryos or even whole bird-things without flight feathers, perhaps a few teeth or three working fingers on their wings-cum-forearms or long tails. Thus would be demonstrated the trail of evolution all creatures carry in their genomes plus undeniable proof birds are dinosaur descendants.
- Discovery News – Jennifer Viegas (March 5, ’09): ‘Dinochicken’ Scheme Puts Evolution in Reverse ; She has it right. The aim is to “create a dinosaur – or something like a dinosaur.”
- Wired – DamonTabor (Feb. 23): Q & A: Jack Horner Wants to Recreate T. Rex From Chickens – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?; And Horner doesn’t say jack about T. rex in the interview.
Tracker’s idea: If if works in chickens, then as Horner seems to suggest in MacLeans, let’s try it on ostriches or emus. Maybe we’d get rough facsimiles of velociraptors. They might be like llamas are to sheep and coyotes. Just let a fox TRY to wreak mayhem in the chicken coop if one of these gene-juggled monsters is hanging around with the hens. Cock a doodle to you, buster. One question – unless there’s some reason other than sheer luck that instinctive behavior changes would accompany a new morphology, what’s to prevent a DNA-edited bird from trying to peck cracked corn with its snout and gums? That could get ugly.