QUESTION: Are Chickens Related to the T Rex?
ANSWER: Yes. Science has revealed compelling evidence that the T. rex actually evolved into a chicken. The Chicken is the Tyrannosaurs’ closest living relative. Not only that but scientists now classify modern chickens as dinosaurs. Which means, chickens are dinosaurs. Below are 5 very interesting reasons why scientists are confident that the chicken is T. rex’s closest living relative.
is the chicken the closest relative to the t rex
Scientists, paleontologists, biologist, and news reporters have all declared that it is conclusive: The Chicken is the closest living relative of T. rex.
In The News: New York Times reports in April 2008, Tests Confirm T. Rex Kinship With Birds
“In the first analysis of proteins extracted from dinosaur bones, scientists say they have established more firmly than ever that the closest living relatives of the mighty predator Tyrannosaurus rex are modern birds…In fact, the scientists said, T. rex shared more of its genetic makeup with ostriches and chickens than with living reptiles, like alligators. ”
Scientists Say: Molecular Analysis Confirms T. rexs’ Evolutionary Link to Birds
“These results match predictions made from skeletal anatomy, providing the first molecular evidence for the evolutionary relationships of a non-avian dinosaur.” Chris Organ
But how did they get that molecular evidence? Was it from amber like in the Jurassic Park movies?
Well, no. But close.
It was found in a femur bone by a famous scientist by the name of John “Jack” Horner.
The Real Dr. Alan Grant
Horner is actually the real person whom Dr. Alan Grant’s character is based on! He found a fossilized T. rex femur in 2003 in Montana. It was big. So big that it didn’t fit into the helicopter.
Faced with flying a giant femur out of a remote Montana field site, they broke the bone in half so it would fit inside their helicopter.
Once Horner got his T. rex home, Mary H. Schweitzer of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences found some soft-tissue preserved inside the T. rex bone.
That soft-tissue gave these researches the opportunity to “extract precious slivers of protein.”
That find was epic!
It eventually led Horner to promise the world, in his famous Ted Talk, the creation of a “chickenosaurus!”
“What we’re trying to do is take our chicken, modify it, and make a chickenosaurus.” Horner
I know. Right?
Don’t worry. I’ll tell you more about that in a bit. But first, the evidence.
What is the Tyrannosaurus rex closest living relative?
That is the question we want to answer today and I’ve already told you the answer. The Chicken.
But, how in the world is that possible?
How do we know the chicken is related to the t-rex?
Here are 5 very interesting reasons why scientists are confident that the chicken is T. rex’s closest living relative.
Dino bones look like bird bones. Just by simply looking at the bones we have today you can easily see that they look more like birds than any other animal. This, is actually, the first thing that led researchers to come to believe that dinosaurs were closely related to birds.
For instance, look at the bones of a chicken next to the bones of a velociraptor below.
They are not identical but strangely similar.
We all know that birds have wishbones. But did you know that some dinosaurs had a wishbone?
- -T. rex had a wishbone
- -Velociraptors had wishbones
A comparison of the T.rex foot bones to that of a chicken reveals striking similarity. They both have hand-like feet very similar to theropods. They have three fingers and the middle finger is the longest. Plus a 4th digit on the opposite side.
When paleontologists found the Archaeopteryx they finally had a well-preserved fossil that showed only slight differences between Archaeopteryx and theropods.
This National Geographic video on YouTube explains.
The 2nd evidence is feathers. Over the years you may have noticed that there have been more and more pictures of dinosaurs with feathers. Our traditional ideas about what Velociraptors, or even the T-Rex, looked like are now shifting from reptile-like to bird-like.
This is because paleontologists have determined that dinosaurs are more like birds than any other animal.
When did this all start? Well, this ‘dinosaurs are more like birds’ trend goes back as far as 1964 when John Ostrom discovered the Deinonychus. He strongly believed that it was warm-blooded.
Then, in 1979, John McLaughlin suggested that many dinosaurs were feathered in his book Archosauria. (Here is a link to Amazon if you want to pick it up https://amzn.to/2tdGTre)
Finally, In 2011, samples of amber from the Cretaceous era were discovered that contained preserved feathers. This led paleontologist to conclude that “some of the feathers were used for insulation, and not flight.”
“The Yutyrannus, described in 2012, are the largest known dinosaurs with feathers—a patch of fossilized skin shows shaggy body feathers, similar to an Emu. Yutyrannus was related to T. rex and measured 30 feet long and weighed more than 3,000 pounds.” Illustration by Brian Choo.
The third piece of evidence can be found in eggs. Many fossils have shown that dinosaurs eggs looked like bird eggs. In fact, Horner stated, in the Ted Talk I mentioned earlier, that Bird embryos today still grow Dino like tales in the egg.
“Chickens, and other birds, are descendants of dinosaurs and carry the dino DNA. In the embryo stage, chickens actually have a tail, which disappears before the bird hatches.” Horner
This fact has lead Horner to work toward finding the specific gene that ‘turns off’ the tail.
If they can find that gene, in the chicken, then they could switch that gene back on, and then… drumroll… hatch a chicken with a dinosaur tail. This, of course, will get them closer to making the chickenosaurus.
The fourth piece of evidence linking T. rex to chickens is collagen. “What is collagen?” you ask.
Collagen is the main component of connective tissue and one of the most abundant proteins in living animals.
That’s the scientific definition. Let me try to break it down for you (no pun intended) in simple words.
Collagen is like the glue that holds your skin and muscles together.
Literally, the word comes from Greek, kolla, which means… get this… “glue!”
Remember Mary Sweitzer? Earlier I mentioned that she found ‘soft tissue’ in a T. Rex femur bone.
Well, that soft tissue contained preserved collagen.
Ok, so here’s the-big-idea. Collagen is a protein and proteins are important because they tell us a lot about an organism.
We can’t extract DNA from collagen, at least not Dino DNA. That’s because DNA breaks down too fast and dinosaurs are too old.
So, DNA might not be the answer to cloning or even learning more about dinosaurs.
Horner comments on this,
“We have discovered that dinosaur DNA, and all DNA, just breaks down too fast. We’re just not going to be able to do what they did in ‘Jurassic Park.’ We’re not going to be able to make a dinosaur based on a dinosaur.” Horner
That’s why this collagen find is so important. We can’t clone a Dino from collagen but we sure can learn a lot. In fact, we can learn more from proteins than we could from DNA anyway.
Studying changes in proteins can actually give us more insights about evolution than just looking at the DNA. Proteins can yield clues about the age of a sample or about the environment in which an animal lived or was buried. Schweitzer
There you have it. Four pretty compelling reasons T. rex is related to the chicken. How about a beefy summary statement?
When you look at a Tyrannosaurus rex and a chicken side-by-side, you can see the similarities. Both walk on two legs, both have scaly feet with sharp claws, and both have a big, brainy head perched at the end of a long, arched neck. Tyrannosaurs even had feathers, a bird-like lung which efficiently takes in oxygen during both inhalation and exhalation, and avian-like fast metabolism and stupendously fast growth rates.
What about DNA
Ok. Blah, blah, blah. Just get back to that chickenosuarus.
Here’s the deal. Jack Horner and his team are literally trying to de-evolve a chicken back into a dinosaur.
When he said, “We’re not going to be able to make a dinosaur based on a dinosaur.” he meant we can’t take DNA from a mosquito and even fossils and then ‘make’ a dinosaur.
But, science can take an animal that is very similar to a specific dinosaur and then turn it back into a dinosaur simply by ‘turning on’ or ‘turning off’ certain genes in that animal’s DNA sequence.
Ha! I said “simply!”
It is obviously not that simple or my kids would be asking for a pet T. rex for Christmas.
The hard part, as best as I can understand it, is finding the right genes to ‘turn off.’
“But the cool thing is that, if you look in the embryo, as the embryo is developing the hand actually looks pretty much like the archaeopteryx hand. It has the three fingers, the three digits. But a gene turns on that actually fuses those together. And so what we’re looking for is that gene. We want to stop that gene from turning on, fusing those hands together, so we can get a chicken that hatches out with a three-fingered hand, like the archaeopteryx. And the same goes for the tails. Birds have basically rudimentary tails. And so we know that in embryo, as the animal is developing, it actually has a relatively long tail. But a gene turns on and resorbs the tail, gets rid of it. So that’s the other gene we’re looking for. We want to stop that tail from resorbing.” Horner
But wait. There’s more. Horner as revealed that he has already found the gene that ‘turns on’ teeth.
That’s right. He made a chicken with teeth.
This is getting real folks! Horner said is 2018
“We’re 5 years away from genetically engineering dinosaurs.”
If you’re really interested in learning more about how Horner is making his chickenosaurus your in luck because he’s written a book about it. Maybe you’d like to read it. It is called, “How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn’t Have to Be Forever.” (Amazon)
Here is what’s on Horner’s to do list to make the chickenosaurus
- a toothed, beakless head
- creation of a long tail
- arms with fingers and claws instead of wings.
Horner says that these three tasks will lead him from a conventional chicken to something resembling a miniature velociraptor.
Imagine this. One day, you might be able to have your own pet chickenosaurus…
I’m not sure.
Are chickens dinosaurs?
Well, the last question we might ask about all this is, “Does this mean that chickens are dinosaurs?”
The answer is, “Yes. Chickens are dinosaurs.”
When you look at a chicken you can safely say, “That’s a Dinosaur.”
The chicken is a dinosaur. I mean, it really is. You can’t argue with it, because we’re the classifiers and we’ve classified it that way. Jack Horner
Oh, I just thought of something. If that is true, then it also answers a few age-old questions. Like:
Q: What does a T. rex taste like?
Q: What came first the chicken or the egg?
A: The Egg!
Why, because of dinosaurs.
Let me explain. Or, better yet, let this philosopher explain.
First, let’s get the scientific answer out of the way. Eggs, generally speaking, existed before chickens did. The oldest fossils of dinosaur eggs and embryos are about 190 million years old. Archaeopteryx fossils, which are the oldest generally accepted as birds, are around 150 million years old, which means that birds, in general, came after eggs. Roy Sorensen, a philosopher at Washington University in St. Louis
All seriousness aside, I think the next 10 years are going to be very interesting in the world of dinosaurs. At least there is a sense of hope, a glimmer of light, that promises to answer many many more questions about dinosaurs.
Or, remembering all the warning of Dr. Malcom in the Jurassic Park series, it could just go horribly bad.
God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs… God help us, we’re in the hands of engineers. Dr. Ian Malcom