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Scientists Finally Unlock Dinosaur DNA

Aug 28, 2018 09:59 PM EDT
Scientists piece together dinosaur DNA in a new study, tracing the genetic history of the long-extinct creatures. It turns out their DNA still exists in modern animals: birds.
(Photo : Dariusz Sankowski | Pixabay)

Dinosaurs may be long gone — or are they? Scientists beat millions of years of extinction and recreated dinosaur DNA using modern-day animals.

No, these men and women aren't planning to launch a Jurassic Park. They say it isn't possible, for now. However, the findings of the study are undeniably intriguing, especially as it makes another significant connection between dinosaurs and their existing relatives, the birds.

DNA Makeup Explains Dino Diversity

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, traced the genetic history of the extinct creatures by working backward from their existing relatives today: birds and turtles. Using mathematical methods, the researchers from the University of Kent were able to determine how the DNA of a dinosaur might have looked.

The team found that dinosaur DNA contain about three times more chromosomes than humans do, an impressive amount that is in line with what scientists currently know about the extinct animals.

According to BBC, the unusually large number of chromosomes in their DNA could explain the amazing variety of dinosaurs who come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and characteristics.

"We think it generates variation. Having a lot of chromosomes enables dinosaurs to shuffle their genes around much more than other types of animals," Darren Griffin of the University of Kent explains to BBC, adding that shuffling genes allows the dinosaurs to evolve quickly and survive.

Dinosaurs, Birds Share Similar Qualities

It's not just dinosaurs who are blessed with an unusually large number of chromosomes. Birds are very similar, with 80 chromosomes compared to humans' 23, which is not surprising considering birds are also an incredibly diverse family.

There are already a number of previous studies that explore the evolution of dinosaurs into birds, from shrinking bones and feathers to cooing and mating rituals.

When the asteroid crashed into Earth 66 million years ago, scientists say that not all dinosaurs were wiped out. A handful of the ones that are capable of flight survived and continue to survive onto modern times.

Now, the genetic data supports the idea even further. BGR points out that with the ancient dinosaurs sharing much of the DNA of modern birds, the two animals are turning out to be even more similar than originally believed.

"The fossil evidence and now our evidence reinforces the idea that rather than birds and dinosaurs being distant relatives, they are one in the same. The birds around us today are dinosaurs," Rebecca O'Connor from the University of Kent concludes.

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