Tracing Evolution in Birds from Beaks

Tracing Evolution in Birds from Beaks

Successfully linking the evolution of birds from dinosaur by replicating the molecular processes that led from dinosaur snouts to the first bird beaks, the scientists have created Dino-chickens in the lab.

The aim of the research was to determine how the rostrum changed in different species over time. A research team led by Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar, a Yale paleontologist and developmental biologist and Harvard developmental biologist Arhat Abzhanov , decided to back-trace the development of the beak. They used a fossil record and conducted the first successful reversion of a bird’s skull features.

Bhullar, lead author of the study, published online on May 12 in the journal Evolution, stated,” Our goal here was to understand the molecular underpinnings of an important evolutionary transition, not to create a ‘dino-chicken’ simply for the sake of it”.

Bhullar explained that the researchers were able to induce the ancestral molecular activity and the ancestral anatomy by inhibiting the activity of certain proteins in chicken embryos. The scientists in the laboratory were thus, able to create specimens with a snout and palate configuration similar to that of small dinosaurs such as Velociraptor and Archaeopteryx.

The importance of the beak to avian anatomy has been rightly exploited by these groups of researchers. The beak is the component of the avian skeleton that has undergone maximum radical transformations. Bhullar stated,” little work has been done on what exactly a beak is, anatomically, and how it got that way either evolutionarily or developmentally”.

Bhullar noted that this same approach could be used to investigate the underlying developmental mechanisms of a host of great evolutionary transformations.

He further asserts that the modified chickens actually lie somewhere in between dinosaurs and modern birds, so it is surely a possibility that one day we find fossils of animals that look like the modified ones: an animal somewhere at the evolutionary midpoint between dinosaurs and birds.

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