How to Hatch a Dinosaur
Hints of long-extinct creatures, echoes of evolution past, occasionally emerge in real life—they’re called atavisms, rare cases of individuals born with characteristic features of their evolutionary antecedents. Whales are sometimes born with appendages reminiscent of hind limbs. Human babies sometimes enter the world with fur, extra nipples, or, very rarely, a true tail. Horner’s plan, in essence, is to start off by creating experimental atavisms in the lab. Activate enough ancestral characteristics in a single chicken, he reasons, and you’ll end up with something close enough to the ancestor to be a “saurus.” At least, that’s what he pitched at this year’s TED conference, the annual technology, entertainment, and design gathering held in Long Beach, California. “When I was growing up in Montana, I had two dreams,” he told the crowd. “I wanted to be a paleontologist, a dinosaur paleontologist—and I wanted to have a pet dinosaur.”
Already, researchers have found tantalizing clues that at least some ancient dinosaur characteristics can be reactivated. Horner is the first to admit that he doesn’t know enough to do the work himself, so he’s actively seeking a developmental biology postdoctoral fellow to join his lab group in Montana. Horner has the big ideas, and he has some seed funding.
Now all he needed to make it happen, he told his TED audience, was a few breakthroughs in developmental biology and genetics and all the chicken eggs he could get his hands on. “What we’re trying to do is take our chicken, modify it, and make,” he said, “a chickenosaurus.”
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