Despite evolution starting out as theory, albeit a very plausible theory, it has become widely accepted today as the true way in which life works. But despite all the empirical evidence presented by scientists, many still don’t believe in this most important of processes.
Meanwhile, teams focused on investigating the process of evolution are in laboratories right now, producing evidence and testing out theories in order to better understand how it works. In one of the most recent papers published on the matter, Chilean scientists developed a chicken with dinosaur legs.
Even though it sounds like a case of ‘they were too preoccupied with the idea of whether they could that they didn’t stop to consider whether they should’, the purpose of the research was actually quite important – the team showed that it was possible to inhabit the activity of a single gene to get features identical to those of extinct creatures.
While there are teams out there hoping to one day create a Dino-Chicken, a chicken whose genes are entirely altered so that it’s reverted back to one of its ancestors, the Chilean team had other, far simpler goals – they wanted to explore how the drumstick evolved.
In the olden days, dinosaurs had their fibula, their tube shaped leg bone, reaching all the way down to the animals’ ankles. As they evolved into birds and the fibula became the drumstick, it became shorter, no longer connecting to the ankle. It even became shorter than the tibia, the other leg bone.
According to the study’s senior author, the University of Chile’s Department of Biology’s Alexander Vargas,
Not only do we know a great deal about bird development, but also about the dinosaur-bird transition, which is well-documented by the fossil record. This leads naturally to hypotheses on the evolution of development, that can be explored in the lab.
So, the team started its testing process. By inhibiting a single gene, the IHH (Indian Hedgehog) gene, in a chicken embryo, the team managed to create birds with the leg bones of a dinosaur. This allowed them to find out many important things about the evolution of dinosaurs into birds.
Over time, the fibula lost its lower end stopped being connected to the ankle, allowing for longer tibias. Tibias, on their end, are used to bear most of the body’s weight and play a vital role in locomotion and mobility.
Previous exploits of teams attempting to figure out similar evolutionary processes include the devolution of the perching toe, leaving birds with dinosaur-like non-twisted, non-opposed toes, and another team even created chickens with a dinosaur snout.
Image source: Wikimedia