Why did the chicken cross the road?
Because he was running away from the rogue scientist who was trying to turn him into a dinosaur...
I remember seeing Jurassic Park as a kid — my mother was convinced it was too scary for me, but my older brother helped change her mind and promised to hold my hand through it. Sure enough, I lost a lot of sleep over the next couple nights (I think it was the dilaphosaurus that really got to me — remember, the one that seemed cute and friendly until it spat tar-like goo in the bad guy's face?) I'm still uneasy when it comes to dinosaurs, but now I'm slightly more grounded in reality.
At least I thought so, before I read a recent article in Wired about paleontologist John R. Horner, who wants to create a living dinosaur by de-evolving the chicken back to its ancestral roots. By combining genetic modification with selective breeding, he believes we can turn a chicken's beak into an alligator-like snout, grow chicken teeth and a chicken tail, and eliminate chicken wings in favor of arms with claws, along with other modifications. Eventually, Horner hopes to create something that would be genetically and phenotypically similar to a dinosaur.
A “chickensaurus” itself still seems far-fetched, and the Wired article quotes multiple scientists who question the feasibility of Horner's dream. Expert in evolutionary developmental biology Sean Carroll responds, "Even if you raised an adult chicken with teeth, you’d really end up with nothing more than Foghorn Leghorn with teeth....And shitty teeth at that.”
The real concern is that a scientific researcher, with power and influence in his field, thinks this is a good idea, apparently motivated in part by the fact that ever since he was a kid, he wanted a pet dinosaur. Even if Horner’s plans do prove scientifically feasible, just because we can create a dinosaur, does not mean that we should. This was the lesson of Jurassic Park, and even though Horner himself was a technical consultant for the film, he seems to have forgotten how it ended. Horner responded to this critique:
[C]ontrary to Steven Spielberg’s movies, animals don’t want to get even with us. We actually could have dinosaurs running around and they wouldn’t be any worse than grizzly bears and mountain lions.
I, for one, will rest better at night if we never test Horner’s hypothesis.
* In the interest of full disclosure, please note that the author is the proud owner of two backyard chickens, named Thermos and Otis.
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
Posted in Animal Technologies, Emily Beitiks' Blog Posts , Hybrids & Chimeras, Inheritable Genetic Modification
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