We have all watched the popular science fiction, adventure film Jurassic Park directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1993. Based on the best-selling book by Michael Crichton and making $1.029 billion at the box office, Jurassic Park became a phenomenon worldwide, both adults and children alike fell in love with the idea that dinosaurs could be brought back through science.
Before publishing, or even writing his novel, Michael Crichton went to a genetics research facility to ask, “Is this possible? Could we, in theory, bring the dinosaurs back from extinction?” and the genetic researcher replied, “Yes.”
This lead to the author to writing the well-known book Jurassic Park, released in 1990, about a wildlife park dedicated to extinct animals with a mere target to entertain a large audience going wrong.
Now, twenty years on, a research team led by Bhullar and a developmental biologist Arkhat Abzhanov at Harvard University have successfully managed to revert chicken beaks into Velociraptor snouts. However, at this point in the research, the snouts did not have teeth and didn't hatch (even though they could have) — so for the moment the genetically modified chickens are not a danger to civilians.
The age of the dinosaurs ended approximately 65 million years ago, some say it was due to a huge asteroid (6 miles in diameter) from space whilst others say it was due to a colossal eruption from a huge volcano.
Personally, I think the dinosaurs were killed by a rise of germs in a disease epidemic but that's a theory for another time. However, whatever catastrophe happened, not all of the dinosaurs became extinct as birds (avian dinosaurs) are still found on Earth today.
So, how did these two scientists do this?
Well, palaeontologists have recently dug up fossils that show how the birds of today's world evolved from their reptilian ancestors, for example when feathers were developed or when they learnt to fly. However, what sets birds apart from the dinosaurs is their beaks — as a dinosaur's arms evolved into wings, the snout also evolved into a beak (to help make up for the loss of a dinosaur's grasping arms, the beak of a bird acts like a pair of tweezers to help grip onto things like food — seeds and insects).
Bhullar and Abzhanov researched into the skeletons of modern birds then moved onto extinct birds, like the Dodo, and then analysed the skeleton of dinosaurs to compare the three types together and understand how the anatomy of a bird's ancestors evolved a beak over time. They found that the beak of a bird developed from the premaxille (a pair of small bones found at the jaw's tip in most animals). However, in birds the premaxille are enlarged and fused together which forms a beak.
The two focused on two different genes that control the development of the centre of the face. The researchers found that the gene activity was different from that of reptiles in early embryonic development. Bhullar and Abzhanov developed molecules that suppressed protein activity within these two genes, which led to the chicken embryos they were experimenting on to develop snouts instead of beaks — resembling their pre-evolved dinosaur face.
However, after publishing their findings in May this year, the researchers are not yet at a stage of genetically modifying chickens to make them, not chickens at all but, Velociraptors and Bhullar stressed in an interview that, “We're not altering the genes themselves yet — we're altering the proteins that the gene produce.”
So even though it may seem like genetic modification, technically it isn't which means that the scientists at Harvard University haven't become the InGen of this day and age — well not yet, anyway.
That brings us back to the question, did the scientists of today learn anything from Jurassic Park? The answer is a resounding no. They did not pay attention to the carnage and danger shown in both books and all four films and have tried to create a dinosaur.
After the franchise became so popular everybody started asking, “Can we do this?” but nobody stopped to think and say, “Should we do this?” Be prepared for the scenes in Jurassic Park to unfold before our very eyes. So, to the people of San Francisco, watch out for a Tyrannosaurus Rex in your back garden!