Last semester, I was assigned an extra credit project for my ornithology class. In this assignment, my professor told us to go on to the TED talks website and choose a video related to ornithology and write a summary of it. I found a really interesting video upon searching ornithology, and I wanted to share it with you all.
To start, however, I would like to tell you all what a TED talk is. I had no idea what they were when I was given this assignment, but I had heard of them before. TED is a nonprofit organization that publishes hundreds and thousands of talks and lectures every year with the purpose of spreading knowledge and ideas. It is a wonderful resource that you can use to find a video that covers pretty much any topic. TED even does events at several universities around the United States at which many speakers come and give free talks/lectures at the event venue.
Now on to the good stuff. The TED talk I chose was entitled Building a Dinosaur from a Chicken. Honestly, I chose this talk because it sounded really cool. I mean, who doesn’t want to click on a video with that title? The author/speaker of this talk was Jack Horner. He is a paleontologist from Montana, credited with several important discoveries in his field. Some of these discoveries include: finding the first dinosaur eggs in the Western hemisphere; finding the first dino babies in nests; and discovering the first dinosaur embryos. That’s pretty incredible, right?
I’m gonna pause in my video explanation just for a second. Fun fact time: I absolutely adore the Jurassic Park movies. They are some of my all time favorite movies, and ever since I saw them, I have wanted to go to a real-life Jurassic Park (which is odd considering the protagonists in the movie are usually always stalked by raging, hungry dinosaurs). Nevertheless, carry on with the video description…
From his findings throughout his years as a researcher, Jack Horner was able to hypothesize that dinosaurs not only were very nurturing to their young, but they were also quite intelligent. If any of you have seen Jurassic Park, you will recognize this hypothesis. The dinosaurs depicted in the movie were able to learn from their surroundings and find better ways to track down the humans in the film. At this point I was amazed that aspects of the movies were actually based on what researchers believed dinosaurs’ behavior was like.
Horner also had another hypothesis for dinosaur behavior that was depicted in the film. This hypothesis was that dinosaurs were very social creatures. This was brought about due to the discovery of differing appearances of dinosaurs from juveniles to adults. They could recognize one another and this was a huge step forward in dinosaur studies. This was shown in some of the sequels of the Jurassic Park movie in that a mother T-Rex was able to identify her child when it is captured by the humans.
I’m sure at the point you are trying to figure out what all this has to do with a chicken. Well, look no further because I am about to bring this full circle! Basically, since many of the hypotheses for dinosaur behavior matched up with the films depictions of dinosaurs, Horner wanted to see if it was possible to create a dinosaur like they did in the movies. He knew that the method of finding mosquitoes in tree sap was a bit far-fetched and almost impossible, so he went for resources that he knew he had available and just might work. After the movie came out, Horner and his colleagues got a grant to extract DNA from a dinosaur in an attempt to recreate one. So they extracted material from an actual dinosaur bone from a fossil. Unfortunately, they were never able to harvest DNA.
They then began a new project using a T-Rex sample, they named B-Rex. Which is a pretty cute name for a T-Rex fossil, if you ask me. In this fossil they were able to find better tissue from inside the bones, very similar to that of a pregnant bird. They then placed the bone in acid and were left with blood vessels, after an attempt to harvest dino DNA, they were again unsuccessful.
Finally, Horner thought to himself that since birds are dinosaurs and dinosaurs are birds, they could make a dinosaur out of birds. He decided the easiest bird to work with would be the chicken. So he began studying atavisms, or ancestral characteristics, of chickens, and using them to their advantage. So the ultimate goal is to isolate all of these atavism genes and turn them back on, and ending up with, what he deems, a Chickenosaurus. They have not been completely successful, but with time they may be.
So basically, we could have a real-life Jurassic Park soon. How amazing is that?! Here’s the full video, and I would definitely recommend checking it out. Horner is really funny and interesting.
I hope you are all having a great summer break! Please feel free to follow my blog and write down in the comments below how you would feel about having a real life Jurassic Park.