Scientists Creating Alligator-Chickens

Instead of creating cuddly animals that people might actually want (mini-giraffes for the home, hamsters large enough to put on a leash and take for walks), some Harvard University scientists are mixing up chicken DNA to make "embryos with alligator-like snouts instead of beaks." Great!

How does a scientist go about making an alligator-chicken? The Daily Mail tells us:

Arkhat Abzhanov, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, developed the chickens with snouts by cutting a square hole in the shell of a chicken egg and dropping in a small gelatinous protein bead before watching the embryo develop.

The changes allowed separate molecules on the side of the face free to grow into snouts within 14 days.

Although ethical rules prevent the eggs from bring hatched, Dr Abzhanov said he hopes to complete the work one day by turning chickens into Maniraptora.

[...]
By altering the DNA of chickens to resemble alligator genes before the beak developed, Dr Abzhanov was able to change the evolutionary path of chickens so that they grew snouts instead.

"Maniraptora" refers to a group of dinosaur-bird species that hung around Planet Earth during the Jurassic period. Apparently chickens are related to Tyrannosaurus Rex and used to have alligator-like snouts before evolving into the beaked, stylishly city-dwelling, frequently breaded-and-fried creatures they've become.

One potential outcome of all this tinkering with DNA, say the Harvard scientists, is that someday maybe they or other scientists can use their research to develop ways to "eliminate birth defects in human children." Notice how they refer to "human children," though, as if clarification is somehow necessary. Are chicken-children on the horizon? Or gator-babies with snouts? No breast-feeding a gator-baby, not with those teeth.

In other terrifying "fun with chickens" news, University of Montana paleontologist Jack Horner has been trying to make a "chickenosaurus," in part because he's always wanted a pet dinosaur-chicken. If you click this link you can see Horner sitting near some of kind of dinosaur model—either the Spinaltaposaurus or a Mulletsaurus Rex (always get them confused). Needless to say, it's neither cute nor cuddly-looking. It looks like it would attack you and enjoy the experience.

[Daily Mail, CNN. Image of infant/temporarily cute alligator via AP]