ATHENS, Ga. -- A scientist who hopes to recreate an actual dinosaur told a University of Georgia audience how he plans to do it Monday.
It won’t be the way described in the book and movie “Jurassic Park,” said paleontologist Jack Horner, a professor at Montana State University who is famous for his research demonstrating that some dinosaurs were social animals that cared for their offspring.
In the movie, scientists cloned dinosaurs with DNA they got from blood inside an ancient mosquito preserved in amber, Horner told an overflow crowd of more than 200 in a large Miller Learning Center classroom.
But in reality, scientists have found no kind of DNA at all from insects trapped inside amber, or fossilized tree resin, Horner said.
Even if they could, they’d probably wind up with the DNA of trees or mosquitoes, not dinosaurs, he said.
Horner and other scientists also have been unable to get any DNA from actual dinosaur bones, he said. Instead, Horner and his scientific collaborators believe they can recreate a dinosaur from chickens.
Chickens and other birds actually are close evolutionary relatives to dinosaurs like the scary velociraptors that ate people in the Jurassic Park movies, Horner said.
In fact, birds really are a kind of dinosaur, said Horner — avian dinosaurs.
Projecting a photograph of a velociraptor skeleton beside a photo of a chicken skeleton, Horner can show how the skeletons are very similar — except the velociraptor had a tail, three-fingered hands instead of wings, and teeth.
Horner and the scientists working with him don’t plan to use conventional breeding to create dinosaurs, and won’t try to modify chicken genes to become dinosaur genes.
Instead, they’re going to find chickens with so-called “atavisms,” he said.
Occasionally, a chicken is born with some characteristics of its ancient ancestors, just as people sometimes are born with tails, like our evolutionary forebears, he said.
Horner plans to use those birds to create dinosaurs.
A University of Wisconsin scientist already has figured out how to get chickens with teeth, Horner said.
Horner and the researchers working with him also will try to change the way chicken embryos develop. Early in development inside the egg, the embryonic chickens develop tails, but as the embryo develops, the tail disappears. He wants to find a way to change the development process so the tails keep growing inside the egg, Horner said.
Horner was the keynote speaker for this week’s “Darwin Days at UGA.” The event celebrates the birth of Charles Darwin, whose theories of evolution and adaptation through natural selection formed the basis of modern-day biological science.