Jurassic Park's Technical Advisor Wants To Make Real Dinosaurs From Chickens
Jurassic Park is a science fiction story, with the fiction part being the more important half of that formula. We all know now that real dinosaurs didn't look quite like the movie depicted them (the more recent movies actually incorporate this fact into the plot). DNA degrades over time and cannot actually be preserved so long in amber. T. Rexes that make the earth shake with each step do not suddenly learn stealth just for the sake of dramatic entrances.
And yet the film did use some science, and it even had a real dinosaur expert as its technical advisor. He was Jack Horner, a paleontologist who now lectures at California's Chapman University. Horner was also the inspiration behind Alan Grant in the original novel. Alan and his book Lost World of the Dinosaurs were based on Horner and his 1988 book Digging Dinosaurs. That book (Horner's, not Michael Crichton's), incidentally, has a foreword by Sir David Attenborough, brother to Richard Attenborough, who played John Hammond.
Horner was the first scientist to describe and name the Maiasaura, a Cretaceous dinosaur. He's studied dinosaur growth, and worked on the theory that T. Rex was a scavenger. He advised the first four Jurassic Park movies, and while discussing possibilities for the fourth, he realized that some of the ideas being tossed around about genetically engineering dinosaurs actually made sense.
Dinosaurs have descendants alive today, in birds. Horner believes that it's possible to manipulate birds to reawaken dino genes that still exist in their DNA but simply do not express themselves. This would not create, say, a full velociraptor, no. But Horner theorizes that chickens still have genes to produce dinosaur tails, even though chickens lose their tails during embryonic development. If we can manipulate the embryo and keep that gene active, a chicken can be born with a dinosaur tail.
A chicken with dinosaur hands may also be possible, says Horner. He has dubbed these proposed creations dino-chickens or chickensauruses, two names that have failed to earn him much respect or funding from the scientific community. He had hoped to complete the project by the end of the last decade, but work has been slow, since animals have big genomes, and experiments to activate dormant chicken genes tend to keep the embryo from developing at all.
We'd say that dino-chickens are an idea too ridiculous for even recent Jurassic movies, but that would just be tempting fate. We'll have to wait and see if any do appear in the next movie—and also to see if Horner himself appears. The man cameoed in Jurassic World; you can see him at the top of the page. He's that little blurry head in the bottom right.
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