Chickens don’t have teeth or that’s at least what we’ve all learned (well, except for the ones in Chicken Run). Yesterday, on the way home from work, I heard this great story on NPR about chicken teeth. You see, about 80-million years ago birds had teeth, teeth very much like baby alligator teeth (creepy). Researchers have been able to grow chickens with teeth by enhancing a genetic trait that exists naturally in birds. The researchers studied 14-16 day-old chicks known as talpid2 mutant chicks. These talpid2 chicks express a protein called catenin which initiates tooth growth. They exposed the chicks to a virus that would cause them to produce even more catenin and the chicks grew alligator-type teeth.
The idea for this was not show that chickens could grow teeth, but demonstrate the genetic history of the birds. We all have a genetic history. Snakes have been known to grow arms and legs like their ancestors. Some humans are known to have a mutation that causes them to grow thick hair all over their bodies, even their faces. Genetic history. We all still have those genes, they just have new functions. In the bird case, the genes for teeth production are now responsible for making feathers.
What a great lesson in evolution! Be sure to listen to the NPR story.