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How to Make a Dinosaur (from Chickens)

Science Fiction Precedes Science Fact: Jurassic Park and The Enormous Egg

The Jurassic Park dinosaurs in Michael Crichton’s fictional world were created by cloning DNA from dinosaur blood. In the book, ancient mosquitoes were encased in amber, containing preserved dinosaur DNA. Unfortunately, DNA is a rather fragile molecule, and degrades rather quickly, even when protected by amber. To date, a full sequence of actual dinosaur DNA has never been found. The Crichton scenario of creating dinosaurs from existing dinosaur DNA is probably not feasible. There is, however, another scenario for making dinosaurs.

In the popular children’s book The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth, the young Nate Twitchell wakes one morning to discover his hen has laid an enormous egg. The egg, as it turns out, houses a Triceratops. This book is full of adventure and appeals to kids in the middle elementary school grades.

Oddly enough, Oliver Butterworth’s fictitious account of a chicken laying a dinosaur egg is not so far off from truth: scientists are currently working to create a dinosaur from chicken embryos. One day in the not-so-distant future, a chicken egg could truly hatch a dinosaur.

Archaeopteryx is not considered a bird, but is a transitional species. It resembled a dinosaur more than a modern bird, but had wings and feathers.

Archaeopteryx is not considered a bird, but is a transitional species. It resembled a dinosaur more than a modern bird, but had wings and feathers.

Jack Horner and a Revolutionary Idea

In the Badlands of Montana, paleontologist Jack Horner has studied dinosaurs for a long time. He found his first dinosaur fossil when he was eight years old. Currently, he is among the top paleontologists in the world. His publications include titles along the lines of How dinosaurs grew so large and so small (Scientific American, 2005) and Age and growth dynamics of Tyrannosaurus rex (Proceedings Royal Society, 2004).

And then there is a little article called, Typology versus transformation in the origin of birds (Trends in Ecology and Evolution 17(3):120-124, 2002).

It has long been known that birds and dinosaurs are related. The famed Archaeopteryx fossil shows a winged reptile – with feathers. The Archaeopteryx fossil has far more in common with dinosaurs than birds: it had a long, bony tail, three claws, jaws with teeth, and sharp claws on the second toe which could extend to kill prey. The animal also had wings and feathers.

The generally accepted theory is that birds are descended from a line of theropod dinosaurs known as raptors. With dinosaurs extinct and no dinosaur DNA to use in cloning applications, how else could a scientist create a dinosaur? The easiest answer to the problem would be to reverse evolution: take a bird, and turn it into a reptile.

Mutant Chicken Embryos Show Reptilian Past

By targeting certain genes in chicken embryos, it is possible to bring out the reptilian traits of the birds’ ancestors. Talpid chickens are mutants which have a lethal, though interesting, change to their developmental genes.

Talpid chicken embryos have a common set of malformations: the chicken’s limbs are generally the most affected. Scientists studying talpid chicken embryos have discovered another anomaly in the mutants: they grow teeth. Like reptiles, talpid chickens develop conical teeth, similar to those of baby alligators. Even in healthy chickens, two day old chicken embryos have 16 vertebrae. Adult chickens only have about 5 vertebrae, as the extra bones are absorbed as the chick embryo develops. By halting the absorption process, the chick would be left with a reptilian tail.

Unfortunately, talpid mutations are lethal. The chicks never develop into live animals, which presents a bit of a problem. To create a dinosaur from a bird, a genetically healthy specimen would have to be found, and specific genes manipulated to bring out the reptilian characteristics.

Birds Have Egg Teeth

Like many reptiles, birds (like this Skua chick) often contain egg teeth to break out of their shells. Baby alligators also have egg teeth.

Like many reptiles, birds (like this Skua chick) often contain egg teeth to break out of their shells. Baby alligators also have egg teeth.

The First With Wings

The first winged vertebrates capable of flight were the theropod dinosaurs. Theropods lived during the Jurassic period, approximately 200 million years ago . Some theropods were capable of flight, though some flightless (and wingless) theropods had feathers. Crocodiles are the closest phylogenic relatives of modern birds.

Archaeopteryx Facts

Reverse-Engineering Dinosaurs

It is entirely possible to create a dinosaur, by manipulating specific genes in a bird’s genome. Emus are an excellent first choice, according to Jack Horner, because they have a lot of features already present to create a dinosaur the size of a Velociraptor.

The genes responsible for the majority of the reptilian vs. avian characteristics are diverse. Very pointed experiments have begun to determine if it is possible to alter the genome of a healthy chicken to obtain reptilian characteristics. Scientists Matt Harris and John Fallon, of the University of Wisconsin, used genetic engineering to induce tooth growth in a normal chicken. The experiment worked: the normal chicken embryos started growing teeth.

Beyond teeth, the genes responsible for plumage have been targeted in Chinese Silkie chickens. This breed of chicken contains scales, rather than feathers, on their legs. Harris and Fallon have been able to turn the gene for scales on and off, to create feathers on the Silkie’s scaled legs. This process can also be reversed – to turn feathered areas into scales.

Birds’ wings already contain the standard three-clawed limbs shared by dinosaurs. The claws, of course, are hidden within the wing structure. Once the gene responsible for limb vs. wing formation is understood, the process of wing formation could be halted, allowing the bird to form reptilian limbs with claws.

Essentially, once the necessary genes have all been identified, a virus could be used to target the dormant avian genes: this would allow the “sleeping” genes to turn back on (or other genes to turn off), causing a bird embryo to revert to its ancestral dinosaur form.

Shared Characteristics: Birds and Dinosaurs

Body SystemSimilarityExplanation


Pneumatized, hollow bones

The Aerosteon had hollow bones, like modern birds


Gastroliths (gizzard stones)

Both dinosaurs and birds have gizzards, which store stones to grind food.


Collagen DNA

Genetic sequencing demonstrates modern birds are more closely related to T. Rex than to alligators


Brooding and nest building

The maiasaura (caring mother lizards) built nests and cared for their young

Scroll to Continue

Jack Horner and the Chickenosaurus

Creating Dinosaurs: Should We Do It?

The moral behind the story of Jurassic Park rings loud and clear: just because we can do something, should we? There are a lot of questions which remain unanswered as research surges forward. One thing is certain: as technology advances and our ability to manipulate genetic material improves, the likelihood that someone will reverse-engineer a dinosaur increases.

Fortunately, there will be no fully grown triceratops (or, more frighteningly, a Tyrannosaurus Rex) emerging from a chicken egg. The first engineered dinosaur will likely be the size of a chicken (or an emu), and the animals are not going to overrun cities with the dramatic flair of a science fiction novel.

You Decide: Making Dinosaurs out of Birds


Mike on September 29, 2020:

I voted have a pet dinosaur because i want a pet amargasaurus.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 31, 2013:

It is a very interesting idea, to say the least. Reverse-engineering a dinosaur would certainly be interesting, samowhamo! My two boys would absolutely love the ability to see a real dinosaur. I'm happy enough to see their fossils at the Natural History Museum!

samowhamo on July 30, 2013:

I love dinosaurs in fact I write mostly about paleontology (though I am also thinking about writing about zoology too). I have heard of this idea before and think its brilliant we probably could never clone dinosaurs like in Jurassic Park because even if we found DNA it probably wouldn't be viable and if we did clone dinosaurs they probably wouldn't survive because the Earth is too different now and they wouldn't be use to the diseases we have today but if we made dinosaurs from birds they would not be like the dinosaurs of the Mesozoic.

Voted up and awesome.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 02, 2011:

The dinosaurs should probably be left in the past. Woolly Mammoths, on the other hand... now that could be interesting!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 01, 2011:

Agreed! No dinosaur revivals, please! ;-)

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 01, 2011:

Some of the avian characteristics (including feathers) were actually found on flightless dinosaurs, which I find fascinating (other similarities like the hip structure and gizzards are also found in terrestrial dinosaurs) - I agree that the ethics should be carefully examined with an undertaking like this. I could see a team of researchers creating a dinosaur from a chicken, but the wholesale creation of an entire pet industry or a "zoo" of dinosaur-like creatures would present a lot of ethical (and environmental) problems if the animals wound up as strays.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 01, 2011:

Yes, they have discovered that birds have traits that were present in some dinosaurs (most probably Pterodactyls, and not T-Rex!), but you make an excellent point..just because something CAN be done does not mean it should be.

Even in more mundane scenarios, just because someone CAN own a dog (for example), doesn't mean they should. (Michael Vick, are you listening??!!)

Fascinating concept, howerver--voted up & interesting.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 01, 2011:

Wow, Rebecca! I'll have to look into that book. My five year old son would be thrilled to make a dionsaur model out of chicken bones (I'm pretty sure he would love to work for Jack Horner, if only they allowed 5 year olds on the team)!

Rebecca Scudder from Upstate New York on November 01, 2011:

This was great - things are further along than I realized. There's a project book on Amazon that teaches you how to make your own dinosaur out of chicken bones, for those people who can't wait.:D

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 01, 2011:

homesteadbound- that is a great image (baby dino in an egg for those who didn't click the link) - if reptiles could be cute, I'd say, "Awwwww..."

Thanks for all the comments, IdeaMorphist, randomcreative, and Allen Williams - I was honored to have this hub selected for the hub of the day!

Allen Williams from Pennsylvania on October 31, 2011:

Very interesting hub, and well written. Congratulations on being picked for hub of the day. I voted up and interesting.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 31, 2011:

Interesting topic for a hub! Congrats on getting Hub of the Day!

IdeaMorphist from Chicagoland on October 31, 2011:

Thank you much for sharing! What great information!!

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on October 31, 2011:

Here's a great picture for this hub. I was looking for a picture for something else and saw this one:

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 31, 2011:

Hillbilly Zen, I'd like to see the coop that could keep a bunch of tiny dinosaurs, lol! I doubt they'd eat chicken feed! Thanks for the compliment - I have a feeling we'll hear from Jack Horner again fairly soon. He (along with several other researchers) are revolutionizing the understanding of dinosaur biology.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 31, 2011:

Patty, birds and crocodiles are eerily related (they're considered part of the large archosaur group, which includes dinosaurs, birds, and crocodiles) - the crocodiles survived the extinction event, since they are as old as the dinosaurs (i.e. they coexisted with dinosaurs). Birds are an interesting situation - scientists have been striving for quite some time to find the point in time when some small dinosaurs developed avian characteristics. The Archaeopteryx is an "intermediate form" - a creature with dinosaur features and feathers. There are also flightless, feathered dinosaur fossils in China. Evolutionary biology is a fascinating subject!

And I can hear the comments now over the first Dinosaur Buffalo Wings: "Man, this tastes just like chicken!"

Hillbilly Zen from Kentucky on October 31, 2011:

I dunno - "archaeopteryx and dumplings" just doesn't sound quite right ;) Congratulations, Ms. Leah, and no wonder this is Hub of the Day - what a fascinating subject, and you presented it wonderfully. I'll be willing to bet that if Jack Horner ever does manage to create dino-chickens, Ms. homesteadbound will have a flock of Voted up, interesting and awesome!

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 31, 2011:

Alton Brown implied in one episode of Good Eats that if dinosaurs gave rise to chickens, then let's reverse engineer to get bigger delicious chicken wings. lol

I HAVE noticed that some birds' feet and legs look scaly like a reptile, but I also think that our largest crocodiles, monitors, iguanas, and similar are dinosaurs that "got small" as food sources diminished. After all, salmon in Ohio rivers all used to be several feet long before we over-fished and over-populated with human fishermen. I've a hunch we have another case of 'missing link' between chickens and dinosaurs in absent DNA chain(s) - but it's interesting to watch the research to see how close they can get.

See, I've SAID new species were being created to replace some extinct ones (only half jokng).

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 31, 2011:

Thanks, Tyler! Who knows - maybe we'll see a dino-chicken someday soon!

TylerSteele from London, UK on October 31, 2011:

This Hub is Awesome!!! :)

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 31, 2011:

Thanks, Beth! My background is biology with a specialization in molecular bio and biochem, so I find the genetics aspect fascinating - geology is such an interesting subject!

Beth Pipe from Cumbria, UK on October 31, 2011:

What an interesting subject - really glad I found it! I graduated in Geology many years ago so it's always fun to read interesting articles on the subject - thank you!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 31, 2011:

Apparently Jack Horner's research (along with several other prominent paleontologist's research) has shown many surprising traits in dinosaurs - they have found the same hollow bones found in birds, and their bone structure suggests they were warm blooded. One researcher actually found viable SOFT tissue preserved in a fossilized remains (collagen tissue). No one thought it could be possible, since it was so many millions of years go, but somehow a little bit of blood vessel tissue survived. Amazing. Thanks for the comment, homesteadbound!

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on October 31, 2011:

This was very interesting. I had done a hub on dinosaurs and how they stopped existing not too long ago, so this definitely struck a cord with me. And I've done several articles on silkies. It will be interesting to see if it is decided to follow thru on a creation of a dinosaur if they were able to. I have mixed feelings on us being able to do it if we can. Something interesting that your hub made me think of however. Although dinosaurs may have been big, what if their bones were as light as a bird's bones. That could certainly change how much people think they might have weighed.

Congratulations on hub of the day!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 31, 2011:

Thank you, homedecorideas!

homedecorideas from US on October 31, 2011:


Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 31, 2011:

Most of the research is done through the universities, so I am sure there is some grant money for various research proposals - though the current experiments performed have more to do with genetic engineering of specific traits (no one has tried to re-create a dinosaur from a chicken... yet). It would be interesting to get a breakdown of the financial sources for this research project! Thanks for the comment, my minds eye!

Maude Keating from Tennessee on October 31, 2011:

I just hope our government (another words, us) aren't paying for this. How do they even come up with these ideas?

Dinosaurs had their chance. I find them fascinating too, but I don't want to live side by side with them either. They served whatever purpose they were supposed to serve, then God took them out. If they were supposed to be here at the same time as us that wouldn't have happened.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 31, 2011:

arusho, I agree - I don't think I would want a Moa or an Emu altered into a dinosaur. Chicken-sized is enough for me!

Leroy64, if you can find a bird big enough to reverse-engineer into a T-Rex sized creature, they may have a shot at it! I think I'll just stick with chicken eggs!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 31, 2011:

mjfarns, I agree - I'm not sure what the benefit would be, other than learning more about manipulating genes responsible for certain characteristics (which might prove useful in the medical field some day). It would be a fascinating insight into the lives of dinosaurs, but since the process involves altering the genes inside of a modern bird, we wouldn't be recreating any known species of dinosaur. We would simply be creating a dinosaur-like creature out of a bird - interesting, but I'm not sure exactly how insightful it would be. There is also work being done to clone a woolly mammoth in Japan - fascinating stuff, if it ever comes to fruition.

Brian L. Powell from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff) on October 31, 2011:

Great article. I wonder if we could get the size of the creatures to that of T-Rex. We could make some huge omelets! Of course, we could just stick with ostrich eggs.

arusho from University Place, Wa. on October 31, 2011:

Great article. I vote yes they create a dinosaur, but a small one. We don't want a big Velociraptor running around!!

mjfarns from Bloomington, Illinois USA on October 31, 2011:

I've been fascinated by this subject since I saw a story featuring Jack Horner on 60 Minutes. After watching that 60 Minutes piece and after reading your hub, I'm left with the same question: what social benefit would making a dinasour out of a chicken? What does it buy us? I can't help but wonder this, even though I'm not the kind of person who normally thinks scientific progess should be stopped by religious dogma (in the form of legislation). But in this case, as absurd as it may sound, I can't help but worry about the unintended consequences of "making a dinasour from a chicken" :)

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 31, 2011:

Thank you asmaiftikhar, Londontours, USHistory4you, incomeguru, and amit7076 - Jack Horner once said that he would love to announce the success of this project by walking out on stage with a small dino-chicken following him. Perhaps we'll see it one day soon - though I am sure it will raise a lot of ethical questions with regard to the pet industry, the ecology, etc.

amit7076 from INDIA on October 31, 2011:

hey nice information

Oyewole Folarin from Lagos on October 31, 2011:

Really this is an awesome hub. Easy to understand. Voted up!

Anthony Carrell from Lemoore California on October 31, 2011:

Outstanding article.

Londontours from London on October 31, 2011:


asmaiftikhar from Pakistan on October 31, 2011:

Congratulation dear that is really an interesting informative article. many many thanks for sharing this.thanks a lot.keep it up!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 15, 2011:

It would be interesting - I have a feeling they would use small chickens if they attempted to reverse-engineer a dinosaur, so they wouldn't be very dangerous. There are a lot of ramifications to creating a new species, though! We certainly have a lot of predators on this planet - Lions and Tigers and Bears (and Dinosaurs), Oh my!

anjperez on October 15, 2011:

i thought it was an article about a halloween artifact. you know, a makeshift dino using a turkey?? but was surprised that you were writing actually about a fictional story based on a scientific theory. this is plausible but i wish they'd rather not do it. having dinosaurs are scary. we already have sharks, bears and tigers and crocodiles... i think that's enough.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 11, 2011:

I have heard of Tigons (and Ligers), but I haven't heard of Zenkeys and Geeps! I'll have to look those up - I assume a Zenkey is a Zebra-donkey hybrid? Generally the offspring of two different species is sterile. There are occasional reports of fertile mules - but it is very rare (there was one born in California years ago and they named the foal "Blue Moon" because it is SO rare for a mule to be fertile)!

I have no idea if the reverse-engineered dinosaur chickens would be fertile or not - I suppose it would depend on which genes the researchers target.

olga khumlo from Mira Road Mumbai India on October 10, 2011:

Hi Leah ,

Thank you for the interesting info.I do not believe in Evolution and truly man ought not to meddle with God's creation like the producing of the 'Zenkey', 'Tigon' and 'Geep'. However all are sterile; man cannot be wiser than God.

Voted up and useful.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 10, 2011:

My four year old son would KILL to be on Jack Horner's team. He agrees: dinosaurs are awesome. Since some experimentation with gene signalling has already begun, I wouldn't be surprised to see someone achieve a dino-from-a-chicken (or other bird) sometime in the near future.

Jim Henderson from Hattiesburg, Mississippi on October 10, 2011:

Oh boy! I can own my own velocipartors! I want two of them. Are they at Pet Smart yet?

OK. Seriously I thoroghly enjoyed this. Dinosaurs always equals 'COOL'! Oh, in an entirely unrelated news item, I heard Col. Sanders has a new 'chicken leg' out now!

OK. Back to serious! I voted UP and awesome!!!!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 10, 2011:

jacobkuttyta, it is interesting! Carmen, it really does present a lot of moral questions: just because we can do it, should we? Certainly humans have caused enough disasters by interrupting the food chain and introducing foreign species into places they don't belong. The damage caused by rabbits in Australia and Kudzu in the American South are enough to serve as a warning.

I have a feeling this will happen one day soon, but the process should be strictly controlled so that the animals could never escape into the wild.

As for the pet industry... you can see how many dogs are in the pound, because the owners are irresponsible. I'd hate to add small, created dinosaurs to the list of neglected pets we have in this world!

Carmen Beth on October 09, 2011:

Weird science yet innovating, but I really do not wish to have dinosaurs roaming the earth again. Our planet has enough catastrophies to deal with.

Jacob from Delhi, India on October 09, 2011:

Interesting information


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