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How to hatch a dinosaur
October 7, 2011 9:26 AM   Subscribe

How to hatch a dinosaur: 'So making a chicken egg hatch a baby dinosaur should really just be an issue of erasing what evolution has done to make a chicken. Every cell of a turkey carries the blueprints for making a tyrannosaurus, but the way the plans get read changes over time as the species evolves.' [via]
posted by dhruva (54 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
He's assuming that evolution adds genes and doesn't change any existing ones.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:33 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


"But again, how do you know they're all female? Does someone go into the park and, uh … pull up the dinosaurs' skirts?"
posted by Fizz at 9:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Next: Woman gives birth to sea cucumber.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure my local hypermart carries both chicken eggs AND science gear. I think I'm all set!
posted by curious nu at 9:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's also a TED talk by Horner. Frankly I find this a ghoulish, someone who seems now "so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."
posted by crayz at 9:35 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That sounds an awful lot like the old 'recapitulation' idea. Not that I don't think there's something to it, but I do think it's more than a little simplistic.
posted by Mister_A at 9:37 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every cell of a turkey carries the blueprints for making a tyrannosaurus...

This Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is going to be epic!
posted by hal9k at 9:38 AM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I was told all I had to do was open the door and get on the floor
posted by The Whelk at 9:41 AM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


If they eventually succeed in making a dinosaur and they "taste like chicken" this could totally transform the fast food industry. If you thought Americans were overweight now, just wait.
posted by tommasz at 9:43 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


*ACKA LACKA LACKA BOOM*
/incantation
posted by Mister_A at 9:43 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If they eventually succeed in making a dinosaur and they "taste like chicken" this could totally EXPLAIN EVERYTHING!
posted by Fizz at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you mean the burger pursues the customers until they lose weight?
posted by jeffburdges at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was thinking more along the lines of "chicken" nuggets the size of pickup trucks, but your idea sounds more fun to watch.
posted by tommasz at 9:46 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


This... no. Its been a couple million years, a lot of the genes necessary for something as obvious as scales have had the equivalent of a video tape splice several times now (i.e. feathers). Unsplicing the footage is not... uh... really all that doable unless things have really shot forward since I studied this three years ago.

The not so obvious stuff, the regulatory mechanisms that controlled when and how tissues and organs developed in the T-rex are long, looooooooong gone. Well, perhaps not gone but certainly misplaced, excised, rewritten, or made redundant.

There are a few, few similarities and hold overs which is what one sees during development. The majority of the stuff? Unrecoverable. You can make a terrifying chicken mutant but I don't think you could call it a dinosaur outside of the circus freakshow sign.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:46 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


You guys, I'm pretty sure there was already a ST:NG episode about this. Barkley turned into a fly! Picard into a...monkey. I think. Anyway, it was bad, you guys.
posted by emjaybee at 9:48 AM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Every cell of a turkey carries the blueprints for making a tyrannosaurus

Great, not I've got this idea stuck in my head to reshoot the Jurassic Park chase scene with a turkey and a toy truck (but leaving all the audio in place).

Damn it! I have too many other projects, and turkeys are difficult to work with!
posted by quin at 9:49 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


This Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is going to be epic!

Parade, nothing! The meal is where it's at! Hope my guests are okay with a Velociducken.

You guys, I'm pretty sure there was already a ST:NG episode about this. Barkley turned into a fly! Picard into a...monkey. I think. Anyway, it was bad, you guys.

Troi turned into a lungfish ...WITH SEXY RESULTS
posted by Greg Nog at 9:50 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just fyi, duck does not taste like chicken, and alligators taste like chicken only if that's all they've been fed. I'd imagine that dino burgers would taste somewhat different, especially if we're talking grass eaters.

You know, velociraptor are much closer to chickens than say tyrannosaurus, hell they're feathered and only half a meter high. We could solve all our food problems with them!

Velociraptor burgers are people!   Naturally reprocessed people!
posted by jeffburdges at 9:52 AM on October 7, 2011


No Greg we just make the chicken go really fast and it will backward transform into a dinosaur and then have sex with Captain Janeway.
posted by The Whelk at 9:52 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


You can make a terrifying chicken mutant...

Well, I suppose that will have to do. Carry on, science.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:55 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Even if he can't make a dinosaur, it's still worthwhile research to try to reverse even small parts of evolution, and one more argument in the case against creationism.
posted by empath at 9:57 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am like a dinosaur in that I would also have sex with Capt. Janeway.
posted by Mister_A at 9:58 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


We called her Capt. Threeway back in Star Trek Officer Training School.
posted by Mister_A at 9:59 AM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


Plus all the cells would probably die 'cause of incompatible mitochondria.
posted by Trochanter at 9:59 AM on October 7, 2011


one more argument in the case against creationism

Yes. This could be the one that convinces them.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 10:00 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I realize I'm being hopelessly pedantic and no fun about this, but chickens already are dinosaurs, dammit. All birds are.
posted by Akhu at 10:00 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, but there are no dangerous birds alive today. In fact, humans don't really anything dangerous except for alligators and sharks. We need a vicious land based predator that tastes good and reproduces quickly enough to be practical as a food source.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:08 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


We need a vicious land based predator that tastes good and reproduces quickly enough to be practical as a food source.

Mmmmm... Razorback!
posted by cog_nate at 10:12 AM on October 7, 2011


Yes, but there are no dangerous birds alive today. In fact, humans don't really anything dangerous except for alligators and sharks.

This is very insightful. We find ourselves, after a couple million years of development, at the top of not only our homo heap but of the whole enchilada, and now we're so starved for competition that we bomb people who look slightly different from us. We need a new common enemy.

Shy of an Independence Day scenario, I think a shit-tonne of tyrannosaurus might be the thing.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 10:24 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


No dangerous birds, you say?

Have you ever seen a live wild turkey without a fence separating it from you?
posted by porpoise at 10:25 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Uncle Beazley the triceratops approves.
posted by The otter lady at 10:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


the regulatory mechanisms that controlled when and how tissues and organs developed in the T-rex are long, looooooooong gone

Wow, who knew there were already republicans 65 million years ago?
posted by Riki tiki at 10:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, geese and swans are total fucking assholes.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:35 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, but there are no dangerous birds alive today. In fact, humans don't really anything dangerous except for alligators and sharks. We need a vicious land based predator that tastes good and reproduces quickly enough to be practical as a food source.

Motherfucking Kiwi.

Wait. That's the opposite of all those things.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:37 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ostriches can kill.
posted by secondhand pho at 10:52 AM on October 7, 2011


Ooh, and they're tasty. I think you're on the right track.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:02 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


quin: "Every cell of a turkey carries the blueprints for making a tyrannosaurus

Great, not I've got this idea stuck in my head to reshoot the Jurassic Park chase scene with a turkey and a toy truck (but leaving all the audio in place).

Damn it! I have too many other projects, and turkeys are difficult to work with!
"

You just have to baste them a lot.
posted by Splunge at 11:09 AM on October 7, 2011


At Cretaceous Thanksgiving, turkey eats you!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:16 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I look forward to eating one of these. Mmmmm, dinochicken.
posted by sharpener at 11:23 AM on October 7, 2011


Every cell of a turkey carries the blueprints for making a tyrannosaurus, but the way the plans get read changes over time as the species evolves.'

OK, IANAP, so I could be totally off base, but..

Well forgetting for a moment that I don't think T-Rex was the ancestor of modern birds, it has been, what 100 million years or so? I am calling BS. I mean if you say a turkey carries the blueprints of a T-Rex then a T-Rex carried the blue print of the ur-reptile, which carried the blueprint of the first Cambrian exploded ur-chordate which carried the blueprint of...

After all do you think *we* carry the blueprint of mammal like reptiles which are cladistically us, say, our synapsid great, great, great to the 100th power, great grandma?

I realize I'm being hopelessly pedantic and no fun about this, but chickens already are dinosaurs, dammit. All birds are.

True, but one can say that we, and all mammals, are Synapsid reptiles. Yet we never do. A lot of people say - and I might have even heard it from Horner - something like "If you want to know what dinosaur behavior is like, look at a bird." I am not buying it. There is enough evolution since the last dinobird, not to mention that birds radiated, almost went extinct, and all modern birds radiated again from the few that survived. It is like saying you can glean a lot about Synapsid behavior from watching people on the IRT. All NY or subway jokes aside, that is absurd.

But I did have duck for lunch, hope they didn't try to slip me some hadrosaur, the restaurant looked a little sleazy.
posted by xetere at 11:31 AM on October 7, 2011


Bring back the Moa! There's got to be some DNA still around we can splice into ostrich eggs or something.
posted by fings at 11:33 AM on October 7, 2011


Every cell of a turkey carries the blueprints for making a tyrannosaurus, but the way the plans get read changes over time as the species evolves.

To quote the bard, "That's not right. That's not even wrong!"

To the best of my understanding, the codon map has not changed much since anaerobic bacteria ruled the earth; the hydrophobic amino acids have no become more or less hydrophobic and water, on it's own has been pretty much 7.0 since the universe got around to making the first oxygen. Yet, somehow, the EfTU in my mitochondria is very similar to the EfTU in E. coli but it is not the same. Those differences correspond directly to a change in the DNA sequence of those two organisms*.

Given the DNA of everything that descended from T. rex (assuming there are a lot of these running around - I don't think we have clear lineage for anything) you might be able to make a half assed guess as to what T. rex's DNA looked like but it would be exactly that, a half assed guess.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:36 AM on October 7, 2011


Have you ever seen a live wild turkey without a fence separating it from you?

Nothing comes between me and my Wild Turkey!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:37 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


but there are no dangerous birds alive today

As porpoise's link suggests cassowaries are Not. To. Be. Fucked. With.

They have a velociraptor like claw that can sever arms and eviscerate people with ease. I've heard that most zoos won't touch them because they are just way, way too dangerous.
posted by quin at 12:09 PM on October 7, 2011


Although it would seem that the article I just linked to might undermine my statement a bit. Still, from everything I've heard they are scary devils in ridiculous plumage, so I wouldn't want to risk Wiki being off base on this one if I encountered one in the wild.
posted by quin at 12:16 PM on October 7, 2011


Every cell of a turkey carries the blueprints for making a tyrannosaurus

Sure would give new meaning to "gobble, gobble"
posted by mmrtnt at 12:41 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and many Greek houses are built of stones acquired from the ruins of the Parthenon... ergo, any Greek house can be turned back into the Parthenon merely by removing all the modern additions!

Simple, right?
posted by IAmBroom at 12:49 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


the 'science' is pretty heavy-handed simplification.

by the same logic, you could take some of your blood, and some of brad pitt's, look at the DNA and 'undo' what makes you and brad pitt different, then clone brad pitt using your own stem cells ... ... ... ... For Science!
posted by toliman at 1:25 PM on October 7, 2011


The problem with this project, and it's a huge problem, points to one of the core problems in biology today: what is a gene? Something at the center of a field should have a solid definition, but like the concept of a species, "gene" has no concrete definition because it's a leaky abstraction, a human conception to help us simplify the enormous complexity before us. Historically a gene was an abstract concept for a unit of heredity. With the discovery of DNA's structure a new definition quickly emerged: a particular sequence of nucleotides, or a particular region in a genome. And the most common use of "gene" these days has an even more narrow meaning: only those chunks of DNA that encode a protein.

The gap between "unit of herdity" and "protein coding region" is vast. They should not be homophones, much less spelled the same, because even though a protein can be a unit of heredity, a unit of heredity can be completely non-protein or even a single location inside a protein. Even before we had genome sequences to compare, back in the 1970s, Marie-Claire King and Allan Wilson had figured out that changes in proteins are not enough to explain the differences between species. The menagerie of the ~20,000 types of proteins is extremely consistent between a turkey and a dinosaur, or a human and a chimp, too close to explain the differences between the species, so we know that there are more significant units of heredity than a protein. (And as people here have pointed out, even with the commonalities in proteins there are still significant differences).

One of the ways to account for differences between species is the regulation of the proteins: the switches that control when a protein gets turned on and off in a cell. This protein regulation is what makes a neuron different from a liver cell, even though they share functionally identical DNA. Different sets of proteins are around in the cell, which changes the cell's shape, reaction to signals, and what chemistry it can perform. Regulation also accounts for how large a species grows, how many digits you have on each finger, whether groups of cells form into a beak or a foot, all the morphology of multi-cellular, multi-tissue animals.

It's this switching on and off of proteins, over the growth of an individual, that accounts for most of what we as humans would consider a unit of heredity. And Jack Horner knows that this is what makes a dinosaur's offspring look like a dinosaur rather than a chicken, these switches are the "genes" that are the important ones.

The problem with Horner's project is this: we barely know what these switches look like in DNA, and they're the central parts of his endeavor. In contrast, proteins have a very strong signal in DNA, and given a long string of genomic DNA and a heavy dollop of signals processing ingenuity we could use a computer to find proteins as far back 90s. And if you compare two related genomes to each other, you can identify proteins from DNA even better, because the proteins are similar between the genomes, and the non-protein is not similar between the genomes.

We are getting better ideas about the regulatory elements of proteins through projects like the ENCODE project. What we're finding is that while there are a very few highly conserved switches, the vast majority of known regulatory elements show little commonality between species, as was predicted by King and Claire back in the 70s. Looking at plots of the conservation of enhancers and insulators (two types of switches that ENCODE is looking for), compared to the conservation of proteins, and there's barely a blip. And while there are ~20k protein genes, there are probably about ~10k enhancers and insulators.

So even if this guy can genetically engineer something that looks like a dinosaur, there's no reason to think that it has any similarity to an ancestral dinosaur. The chickosaur would be an engineering feat that may give us insight into how to change animals into other forms, but it won't tell us much about the past. Most of the original regulatory switches are long gone, and they're not coming back.

We know a lot about some genes, just not the right genes, and even if we find those genes in modern species, the dinosaurs' have been lost. If Horner can somehow show that what the ones he invents are similar to dinosaurs', he will have some truly ingenious trick up his sleeve that he's not revealing.
posted by Llama-Lime at 3:56 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


tommasz: "If they eventually succeed in making a dinosaur and they "taste like chicken" this could totally transform the fast food industry."

They may even have a statue dedicated to them.
posted by Pinback at 5:47 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


JURASSIC PARK ALL OVER AGAIN.
posted by dreyfusfinucane at 7:24 PM on October 7, 2011


I've got 22 turkeys, 19 chickens, and a tattoo of an archaeopteryx. Bring it, Horner, my dinosaur army awaits!
posted by stet at 8:39 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Well, in regular fossilisation, flesh and bone turn to minerals. Realizing that, it was a simple matter to reverse the process!" - H. Farnsworth
posted by bjrubble at 9:36 AM on October 8, 2011


I met a cassowary at a zoo and its giant be-taloned foot was the most obviously dinosaur thing I ever did see.
posted by fucker at 3:00 PM on October 8, 2011


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