Scientists Monkey With Evolution, Produce "Snouted Chicken"

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Scientists Monkey With Evolution, Produce "Snouted Chicken"

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What happens when you regress a baby chicken in ovum to an earlier evolutionary state?

Though the above sounds like the premise for a Michael Crichton novel, it's actually a question posed by scientists working at Harvard University. Arhat Abzhanov and his team of evolutionary biologists realized that the the only valid way to answer that query was to just go ahead and engineer a chicken a few branches below our modern fowl on Darwin's personal Vitae Arborum.

The result has been dubbed a "snouted chicken." Courtesy Bethesda Softworks' upcoming The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you can see a (tangentially related) artist's rendering at right.

The apt moniker actually describes a bird whose genes have been pushed just a few notches closer to those of its reptilian ancestors. The result is an avian facial structure that has more in common with the toothy grin of an alligator (or velociraptor) than the pointy beak of its feathered cousins.

That's neat and all, but how exactly do you "de-evolve" a chicken? New Scientist explains:

Abzhanov started by trying to pinpoint the gene changes that led to the myriad beak shapes of Galapagos finches. In 2004, he showed that all the finches share a handful of genes crucial to beak development, but instructions for the signalling molecules they control vary from bird to bird. Abzhanov realised that a similar process might underlie the much bigger evolutionary shift from snouts to beaks.

The tip of an alligator snout is made of a separate set of paired bones called the premaxillary, but in birds, these have fused with the main of the upper jaw to form a single, sharp bone.

Abzhanov scanned signalling molecules in alligator and chick embryos and found that two of them -- known as sonic hedgehog and fibroblast growth factor 8 -- show up before the snout and beak form. In gators, however, the molecules were only present along the sides of the face. Chicks express them both at the sides and centre of the developing face. What would happen, he wondered, if he turned that central expression off?

He developed a gel bead full of proteins that stick to the signalling molecules and deactivate them. As the molecules arrived at the centre of the embryonic chick face -- around day 5 -- Abzhanov added his bead to the mix. Sure enough, the chicks developed paired bones. "It looks exactly like a snout looks in an alligator [at this stage]," says Abzhanov.

As New Scientist also points out however, ethics regulations prevent Abzhanov from hatching any of the eggs created by his team.

Speaking of ethics, one must at this point wonder for what purpose exactly are these researchers turning back the evolutionary clock? Disease prevention? Genetic research?

Nope. Abzhanov wants to create dinosaurs.

"Long term Abzhanov, dreams of turning chickens back into Maniraptora, small dinosaurs thought to have given rise to the 10,000 species of birds around today," the article says.

While the science geek part of my brain is wildly excited for the potential this has to expand the field of genetics research, the part of me that read Jurassic Park at age 10 is frankly terrified. I like Jeff Goldblum! I don't want to see his legs smashed by a Tyrannosaur!

Source: New Scientist

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Pics or it didn't happen.

I don't really care why they are doing it, I just think it's neat. The Ethics of it? Well, this is probably the most ethical thing we are doing to chickens right now, and that says a lot.

I wonder if this could be applied to humans too. Just find a way to de-evolve us back to the "missing link."

For Science!

Does this mean we can make dinosaus? My inner child is squeeing with joy right now...

Mmm, as excited as I am at the idea of prehistoric species coming alive, there's quite a few issues. The animals could never live in the wild as they would distrupt the 'balanced' ecosystem (as balanced as it can be with humans constantly mucking with it).

The only reason I can see for this research is the sake of being able to do it. That's...
Possibley the new animals could be used to research diseases and random stuff, but that means you're breeding animals to experiment on. Depending on the experiments it has the potential to be ethically wrong.

I would prefer if they used this method to ressurect animals that we humans have caused to go extinct due to our own selfish needs. However... I'm not sure how they would do that...

Devolve a close reletive of say the Dodo till the animal they produce is a common ancestor, and prey that animal may in the rare event evolve down the route of the Dodo. Still the animal would never be able to live in a real ecosystem. It would forever be in captivity.

Will be interesting to unravel mysteries of evolution. But I don't want this to happen at the expense of a life of an innocent laboritory manipulated animal.

"They told me I could never turn chickens into dinosaurs! But I showed them! Muahahaha!" -Arhat Abzhanov, overlord of the feathersaurous Rex empire. It's either this or Jurassic Park he is striving for.

"Speaking of ethics, one must at this point wonder for what purpose exactly are these researchers turning back the evolutionary clock? Disease prevention? Genetic research?"

Well of course it's one more step in cementing the idea that evolution is a valid theory for how one species becomes a new one.

"Long term Abzhanov, dreams of turning chickens back into Maniraptora, small dinosaurs thought to have given rise to the 10,000 species of birds around today,"

Oh... never mind. Love this guy.

Wait, sonic hedgehog?
They can't be talking about the blue rodent who runs a lot, so anyone know what they are talking about?

I don't see why they can't hatch them. What is ethically wrong with hatching something for science? How is it any worse than hatching something just to be killed and ate? Last time I checked, science is legal and murder is not. Then again, I don't think reptilian chicken strips will be as good as regular chicken strips.

Scytail:
I wonder if this could be applied to humans too. Just find a way to de-evolve us back to the "missing link."

For Science!

Every generation is a link in the chain of evolution. Every generation not completely accounted for is a missing link. :P

(And we will never find every missing link, since our remains are much too fragile for all of them to survive the passage of time.)

He wants to create...dinosa- Screw ethics and Jeff Goldblum! Let this man do his job damn it!

it's like we're asking for someone to step up and become a super villain

am i the only one that see's a super intelligent evil dino-fend being made form all this?...i am? oh ok ... what about if he manages to create dinosaurs then gets mad with power and starts creating his own army of fore mentioned beasts

I want to buy one as a pet.

It would be ADORABLE my widdle fuzzy wuzzy chikin dino

Wait, why is one of the genes named sonic hedgehog?

How is killing the eggs "ethical" but letting them hatch not? And compared to what we do to chickens daily...

Why aren't there any pictures?

So many questions...

Let's be abundantly clear about this:

He did not regress a chicken to an earlier evolutionary state. I know it's convenient to say that, but he didn't. He stopped the expression of signalling molecules in the center of the chicken's face, which caused the chicken to express features similar to a hypothesized earlier evolutionary state.

Just wanted to make sure we were all clear about that.

Earnest Cavalli:
*snip*

This is pretty basic stuff, they did things like this years ago.

Only it was giving chicken "teeth".

The clever thing was they genetic code didn't even have to be altered as the genese for "hens teeth" have always been there but dormant.

Another gene controls the EXPRESSIONS of the genes that MAKE hens teeth. You don't have to activate the gene, just emulate it. As when the gene is activated it releases hormones that stimulate cells in the bird's jaw to turn into teeth. Add the hormones and bob's your uncle, hen's teeth.

But somehow this never hit the news because it wasn't "altering the genetic code".

I think if things like "scientific ethics" are restricting him he should pitch cavemen supersoldiers to North Korea. I don't think they would let anything that mundane stand in their way.

"known as sonic hedgehog and fibroblast growth factor 8" Seriously, who the fuck is naming these things? Oh, right, nerds.

On topic: Damn the Ethics! Make the goddamn dinosaurs!

Chicken snouts will become the newest ingredient in those KFC famous bowls. Just you watch.

So if they do successfully recreate dinosaurs, I only have 1 question, which is possibly the most important question of all: How will it taste?

I kinda don't like all these "science ethics" restrictions. sure, there's a lot of bad things we can do, but if you don't allow science to progress, then you're just stunting our growth as a species. imagine if those scientists didn't do secret experiments on cadavers back when it was still forbidden? where would we be now?

and doing science for the sake of science is the best part of the field! I think "we do what we must because we can" is the perfect anthem for the whole of science!

Jabberwock xeno:
Wait, why is one of the genes named sonic hedgehog?

How is killing the eggs "ethical" but letting them hatch not? And compared to what we do to chickens daily...

Why aren't there any pictures?

So many questions...

I studied biochemistry and I can tell you it is a joke name... the worst joke ever, one only a biochemist can find funny and most groan at this one. It's complicated, it has to do with how the cells of an embryo are arranged someone first noted that they looked hedgehog like. The "sonic" variant turns out to be rather important.

I will stay though that (in biochemistry at least) the discoverer can name it pretty much whatever the hell they like and no peer-review board can force him/her to use a more sensible name.

This is all well and good in the lab but it becomes a real problem when a doctor has to explain to a mother carrying child that their foetus has a deformity from a fault in their "Sonic the Hedgehog" gene...

"...Yes, thats a very nice dinosaur, but you were SUPPOSED to be working on making ipods smaller..."

awesome. can i keep one?

Because there is so much more room for more species on this planet...

There's a reason there are ethics and legal restrictions on science, because scientists, while very clever in their own unique fields, are NOT very good at the whole big picture thing. I reckon this is pretty cool, but for the sake of common sense I hope this gets shut down, or at least confined to where he is now.

rembrandtqeinstein:
I think if things like "scientific ethics" are restricting him he should pitch cavemen supersoldiers to North Korea. I don't think they would let anything that mundane stand in their way.

Most of the knowledge at the moment is figuring out how things go wrong, like Cancer, deformity and viruses like HIV.

We're decades away from possibly improving anything at the biochemical level, we struggle to fix things when they go wrong. Yeah, there will always be anabolic steroids like testosterone but they cause your nuts to shrivel up or even get testicular cancer!

And what's the point in making someone 20% stronger? A bullet will make them just as dead just as easily. The main focus is stopping the "dead from bullets" part and a lot of research is going into battlefield survival such as advanced clotting factors and also stem-cells to repair chronic soft-tissue injuries.

Can't grow entire legs back yet.

But they ARE working on it.

"Their ethical inflexibility has allowed us to make progress in areas they refuse to consider."

Greasel

They only altered embryonic development through mechanical intervention, though; they haven't made any changes to the chickens' genes. So if these snouted chickens could breed, their offspring would be normal chickens. Compare it with antennapedia genetically modified flies with legs where their antennae should be.

scw55:
Mmm, as excited as I am at the idea of prehistoric species coming alive, there's quite a few issues. The animals could never live in the wild as they would distrupt the 'balanced' ecosystem (as balanced as it can be with humans constantly mucking with it).

The idea of a "balanced" ecosystem is a myth.

Even discounting things like humans and the meteor that probably kileld the dinosaurs 99.9% of all the species that have ever existed are extinct.

Ecosystems are not stable, they are in a near constant state of flux. What is a rainforest on millennia could be a desert the next, then another thousands years and it is grassland then rainforests again.

The idea of eco-systems in "Balance" went out with ideas like "Spaceship earth", the idea that our planet could be managed like the life support systems of a spaceship.

(this has been somewhat of a problem in commerce as many economic models have been based on emulating nature and ideas such as natural selection based on the presumption of nature being essentially ordered. I think we've seen since the 2008 crash that the "self regulating" new economy is an illusion)

And now it has entered quite widespread acceptance in the scientific community that we are living in the anthropocene era and have been so for centuries. Anthropocene means "age of man", up till now we were in the "Heliocene" or "age of sun" such ages are named after the single largest force shaping the earth, it was considered to be the sun and its heating, evaporation of water for rain and all that erosion, etc. Before that it was the ice age, the effect of ice shaping things.

But now it is mankind, human's have left such an enduring mark on every part of nature it is pointless to deny it. We have moved more rock, channelled more rivers and moulded more of the planet in a shorter time than any other force on this planet since the the first cellular life started oxygenating our atmosphere.

Humans should no longer be considered something that can be cordoned off and away from a "perfect and eternal" nature. Human's aren't "mucking things up", nature doesn't have a plan.

CrazyGirl17:
Does this mean we can make dinosaus? My inner child is squealing with joy right now...

You will be squealing with terror when they attempt to eat you. "Humans, Om Nom Nom". This is rather interesting though how long until we do this to humans? "Mammoths, Om Nom Nom"

oktalist:
"Their ethical inflexibility has allowed us to make progress in areas they refuse to consider."

Greasel

They only altered embryonic development through mechanical intervention, though; they haven't made any changes to the chickens' genes. So if these snouted chickens could breed, their offspring would be normal chickens. Compare it with antennapedia genetically modified flies with legs where their antennae should be.

Yeah you can modify the crap out of flies and no body cares. After all they are annoying ugly bastards that eat crap and are just really hard to swat.

But chickens... people get all personal about those. People have banner waving campaigns about chickens being killed for meat for gawd sakes. Names a kids cartoon with a talking fly that is in any way presented in a good light?

A fly has to be considered the lowest form of life, the very phrase:

"he wouldn't hurt a fly"

is an evocative way of saying he wouldn't hurt any living creature, even something as lowly as a fly.

Biochemists love them though, their bodies are very expressive of their genes and have an extremely short breeding cycle, 2 days compared to humans that take 18 years + 9 months at the very least.

Azuaron:
Let's be abundantly clear about this:

He did not regress a chicken to an earlier evolutionary state. I know it's convenient to say that, but he didn't. He stopped the expression of signalling molecules in the center of the chicken's face, which caused the chicken to express features similar to a hypothesized earlier evolutionary state.

Just wanted to make sure we were all clear about that.

Fuck that shit, he's making dinosaurs.

Once again the brilliant scientiists are held back from achieving their full potential because of petty "ethics".

Let's build him Rapture.

Treblaine:

oktalist:
They only altered embryonic development through mechanical intervention, though; they haven't made any changes to the chickens' genes. So if these snouted chickens could breed, their offspring would be normal chickens. Compare it with antennapedia genetically modified flies with legs where their antennae should be.

Yeah you can modify the crap out of flies and no body cares. After all they are annoying ugly bastards that eat crap and are just really hard to swat.

But chickens... people get all personal about those.

But there's no technical reason why chicken genes couldn't be modified in a similar way to how other organisms have been. Wasn't there an accusation once that KFC had done such a thing? Ethically there's not really a difference between mechanically influencing embryonic development and modifying genes; the end result is the same: a modified organism. The two approaches probably both have advantages and disadvantages and each would be best suited to different circumstances.

Biochemists love them though, their bodies are very expressive of their genes and have an extremely short breeding cycle, 2 days compared to humans that take 18 years + 9 months at the very least.

Indeed, Drosophila is a classic model organism for geneticists (mad scientists).

Isn't their a general rule of thumb that humans shouldn't play God? Not speaking as a religious fanatic,I just kinda see this going in a bad direction.

Beryl77:
He wants to create...dinosa- Screw ethics and Jeff Goldblum! Let this man do his job damn it!

you know i think that what the nazi thought when they were experimenting.

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