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Protein shows chicken’s dino heritage

t-rex2 alamy.JPGchicken Getty.JPGAnalysis of a protein from Tyrannosaurus Rex confirms that our modern chickens really are descendants the closest living relatives of the fearsome beast. The finding has divided opinion over whether it means we should have more respect for the humble chicken, or whether we should instead look down on T. Rex for its pathetic, distant offspring relation.*

Researchers from the United States this week report the first use of analysis of a protein, in this case extracted from a femur found in 2003, to place a non-avian dino in the ‘tree of life’. The team also did the same thing for the mastodon, unsurprisingly finding it grouped with modern elephants (new paper in Science).

“We determined that T. rex, in fact, grouped with birds – ostrich and chicken – better than any other organism that we studied,” says John Asara, of the Harvard Medical School (press release). “We also showed that it groups better with birds than modern reptiles, such as alligators and green anole lizards.”


trex chicken protein.jpg

Although it is generally accepted that dinosaurs’ closest living relatives are birds, up to now this has generally depended on analysis of skeletons, although last year some of the same team reported extracting protein from T. Rex and finding it was pretty similar to the collagen of chickens (Nature).

What this all means for our feelings towards poultry is more controversial.

“It looks like chickens deserve more respect,” says AP. The Times disagrees, saying, “for all its appearance as a ferocious predator, Tyrannosaurus rex was just an overgrown chicken”.

“Be careful who you call chicken – because the bird is actually descended from the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex,” says The Sun.

Headline watch

T. Rex Closer to Gizzards Than Lizards – Washington Post

Tyrannosaurus Pecks – The Sun (with great graphic)

*As the comment below points out, I’ve boobed on this one. This sentence should have read:

Analysis of a protein from Tyrannosaurus Rex confirms that our modern chickens really are descendants the closest living relatives of the fearsome beast.

Images: Getty (chicken) / Alamy (T.Rex) / Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation (Protein diagram)

Comments

  1. Mike Keesey said:

    Analysis of a protein from Tyrannosaurus Rex confirms that our modern chickens really are descendants of the fearsome beast.

    I’ve seen the findings being reported this way a few times now and—sorry, it’s wrong. T. rex had no descendants, ever. Tyrannosauroids (including T. rex) and maniraptoriforms (including birds) diverged from each other somewhere around the Middle Jurassic, about 100 million years before T. rex existed. And then, of course, T. rex went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous, leaving no descendants. It was, however, survived by its distant relatives, the birds.

    This protein analysis supports T. rex being related to birds, not ancestral.

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