Waaaaayyy back in 1993 Steven Spielberg directed the film Jurassic Park based on the Michael Chrichton book of the same name. It is a fantastic movie and if you’re old enough, like me, you’ll remember the Dinosaur fever that took over the country. People were fascinated with the idea of dinosaurs existing in the modern world. Could such a thing really be possible? After all, it seemed like such a simple procedure. All you had to do was go out to a mine in South America somewhere and dig up a mosquito that had been stuck in amber for millions of years. You take it to a lab and extract the dinosaur DNA, clone it, and stick it in some sort of egg and… BOOM… Bob’s your raptor. It seemed so simple that anyone would think we’d have triceratops(eses) as pets by the end of the millennium at the latest. But there’s a problem.
It turns out after millions of years, DNA is really hard to come by. Paleontologists like Jack Horner, who does a great TED talk about the subject, has been trying to find a viable sample for most of his career. The problem is most dinosaur DNA breaks down too fast once it has been dug up. Without a sustainable sample that can be mapped or cloned, it seems every young boy’s dream of getting chased through the jungle by a T-Rex while Jeff Goldblum utters quippy nonsense is permanently dashed.
But scientists don’t give up that easy. They’re way too diabolical to see something like 65 million years as anything more than a hurdle that needed clearing. Well, going around it is more accurate. They couldn’t get the dinosaur DNA from actual dinosaurs. So, what’s the next best thing?
No, seriously. It turns out that birds are the modern relatives of dinosaurs. And my guess is that they started with chickens because nobody is going to care to ask too many questions if you associate your experiments with a word that makes most people hungry. But make no mistake, “chickenosaurus” is a thing.
Utterly terrifying… But also goes good with a little zesty barbecue sauce.
It all starts with a concept called “Atavism Activation,” a method of activating certain ancestral genetic traits while deactivating modern ones in order to revert back to a less evolved state. Scientists have been using this method to modify chickens in specific ways like giving them teeth and hands and, given a couple more years, jaws strong enough to rip a lawyer right out of his bathroom stall.
So just how close are they to making this science fiction into a reality? Horner reckons about half-way. “From a Quantitative point of view,” Horner said in an interview with LiveScience, “we’re 50 percent there … We know we can do it; it’s just there are … some huge hurdles.”
Some of those “hurdles” include studying the evolutionary biology of both birds and reptiles which, up to this point, has taken the better part of a decade. So you wont be able to buy a pet raptor chicken or get your hands on some delicious Dino-nuggets anytime soon. But make no mistake, they’re definitely on their way.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go wolf down one of those chick-fil-a sandwiches.