Are chickens dinosaurs?

With the discovery that some species of dinosaurs had feathers, a logical question might be: Are all modern birds really dinosaurs?

Scientists have suspected a link between two-legged dinosaurs and modern-day birds such as chickens and ostriches for some years. That’s because they have similarities in their body structures. However, research carried out in 2008 showed for the first time that certain dinosaurs share common ancestry with these birds. So while chickens are clearly not untamed and ferocious beasts, they do seem to be Tyrannosaurus rex’s closest living relative.

Collecting dinosaur protein

All living things have proteins. In animals, some proteins form the basis of muscles, while others - called antibodies - fight infection. Finding proteins in a creature that died out 68 million years ago is extremely difficult because when creatures die, proteins are broken down. In the case of dinosaurs, the remains that are found have been fossilised, meaning they became encased in rock, which prevents the bones from rotting away. The likelihood of finding anything that hasn’t decomposed after such a long time is very slim.

The scientists who found the strands of protein did so almost by accident. They were tasked with flying the huge leg bone of a T-rex away from the place where it was discovered. To do so, they had to break the bone in half, and in doing so they found the fossil contained tiny amounts of soft tissue such as blood vessels. This gave them an opportunity to look for DNA.

Discovering the link

While the team couldn’t find any DNA, they did manage to find some molecules of collagen, a type of protein that provides structural support to skin, muscles and bones. Molecules are one of the smallest building blocks that create everything around us - to see them you need a specialist microscope. So you can imagine how much effort it took to extract these from a bone that was millions of years old!

The molecules of collagen were then compared with those of various modern animals, including humans, chimps, mice, chickens, alligators and salmon. What the scientists found was that the dinosaur’s molecules were most similar to those of chickens and ostriches. This in turn shows us that these birds are probably the closest living relatives of this fearsome beast!

Walk with dinosaurs this summer

If you’re fascinated by dinosaurs and searching for ‘dinosaur events near me’ don’t miss Dinosaur World Live. Touring the UK from 1 August to 30 October, this stage show uses stunning puppetry to introduce the whole family to a range of prehistoric beasts, including Microraptor, Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex. You can experience this dinosaur adventure live at a theatre near you.

The show is suitable for children aged three and up, and is perfect for limited attention spans, being just 50 minutes in length with no interval. To round off your dinosaur experience, there’s a meet and greet afterwards. Book your tickets to this prehistoric adventure today.