Janice Boekhoff
 

Chickenasaurus?

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For years, scientists have been trying to “prove” that dinosaurs evolved into birds by tinkering with the DNA of existing birds.

In May 2015, researchers announced they created the first chicken embryos with longer, flatter snouts, instead of beaks. The scientists say these snouts are a throwback to the evolutionary ancestor of birds, the dinosaurs, but are they really?

To create these embryos, researchers focused on two genes that control the development of the middle of the face in chickens. Now, I bet you’re thinking they modified these genes, but no, they didn’t. They used special molecules to suppress the activity of the proteins these genes produce. The resulting embryos had flatter snouts where the premaxillae (small bones of the upper jaw) were not fused like they are in bird beaks. The scientists referred to these embryos as the ancestral dinosaur state of the chicken.

Although the scientists did not allow the embryos to hatch, they have used the CT scans to claim that it would have been easy for evolution to change a dinosaur snout into a bird beak.

Easy? The scientists themselves admit they are not capable of genetically modifying an embryo into a dinosaur at this point. In fact, their easy method didn’t alter the genes of the chicken at all, just the proteins those genes produced.

Do these experiments really give us any information about evolution? All they tell us is that humans (as intelligent beings) can experimentally change through purposeful actions the complex workings of another creature. In this experiment, the scientists didn’t create anything. They were only able to change what was already there, and not even through random selective pressures, but by design.

What do you think? Can you make a Chickenasaurus in a lab? Would it really be a dinosaur?

 

Reference: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2015/05/13/chicken-embryos-with-dinosaur-snouts-created-in-lab/

Photo Credit: ID 20749999 © Mr1805 | Dreamstime.com

Brontosaurus is Back!

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One of America’s favorite dinosaurs has made a comeback after a century of being pushed out of its rightful place in history. Flintstones fans will be happy to know the Brontosaurus has been vindicated. In 1903, long before the Flintstones used them as workhorses, the Brontosaurus genus had already been rejected by a paleontologist name Elmer Riggs who concluded there weren’t enough differences between Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus to warrant separate classification. Since Apatosaurus was named first, that name was kept for the genus (note: genus is one classification level above species).

In recent years, more complete fossil skeletons have been found, enabling comparisons that scientists couldn’t make several years ago. A recent study (April 2015, for full article click here) has overturned Riggs decision, making Brontosaurus a genus once again. The study, conducted by researchers from Portugal and the UK named Emanuel Tschopp , Octávio Mateus and Roger B.J. Benson, reviewed 81 specimens of long-necked dinosaurs from the family Diplodocidae to give a comprehensive look at certain anatomical traits.

The differences they found between the genera Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were more than 20%, allowing them to say that Brontosaurus deserved its own genus. So, now the name of the thunder lizard can be confidently proclaimed.

Of course, when interviewed about the change, Brontosaurus kept a stony silence rather than complain about how long this took.

References: http://www.cnet.com/news/welcome-back-brontosaurus/, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/04/07/brontosaurus-back/25413671/, https://peerj.com/articles/857/#intro

 

Photo Credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/9106303@N05/11105904724″>Peeping Tom, East Side</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Iffyosaurus? The fake dinosaur.

Ichthyosaurier

Sometimes we’re tempted to think of scientists as people smarter than us who study things that take years of training to even understand. And that’s correct—to an extent.

Scientists are people with their own thoughts, agendas, career aspirations and biases. Yes, I said it—biases.

I was trained as a scientist and just because I might know more fifteen letter words than you, doesn’t mean I don’t have my own bias. We all come at the world with our own viewpoint, our own lens through which we look at the world. While scientists might be smart people, they’re still people.

And sometimes people are fooled.

In 1884, the National Museum of Wales at Cardiff received an Ichthyosaurus (a marine dinosaur) specimen from a local businessman. The museum kept the skeleton on display for 116 years before it started to show some wear and tear.

In 2000, museum staff worked on restoring it. They chipped away at the layers of paint meant to preserve the fossil. Underneath, they discovered an elaborate forgery which meshed two different types of Ichthyosaurs together along with some fake parts. The staff affectionately dubbed the specimen, Iffyosaurus.

How were several generations of paleontologists taken in by this forgery? Well, of course some of the evidence was covered up by paint, but this also could have been a case of confirmation bias. When something is established in our head as fact, our minds overlook contrary information that’s right in front of us. Meaning we’re predisposed to confirm what we already believe.

Why? Because we’re people. And people can’t be perfectly objective. But people who are scientists have an obligation to at least try to look past their biases in search of the objective truth.

First, though, we have to identify our biases before we can look past them. I’ll start. I’m biased in favor of the Bible as God’s word of truth. Do you think that’s the bias for most scientists?

Probably not.

What do you think? How many scientists would admit they have a bias? Are you biased? What are your biases/assumptions about the world?

 

Reference: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2000/dec/08/dinosaurs.uknews

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mhaller1979/3669195531/”>mhaller1979</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

Fake Dino-Bird

Note: I can’t find a picture of Archaeoraptor to legally post here, but to see it on the National Geographic site, click here.

In 1999, National Geographic published an article about Archaeoraptor, a new fossil find and purportedly the missing link between dinosaurs and birds. This fossil came from China and was illegally exported to the U.S. where it was bought by the owner of the Dinosaur Museum. This man then contacted National Geographic to announce the find to the world.

The fossil was heralded as the missing link because it appeared to have a dinosaur-like tail with a bird-like body. Unfortunately, the reason it appeared that way is because it was a dinosaur tail (a dromaeosaur) stuck onto a slab with a bird body. In fact, a CT scan revealed this fossil to be a composite of at least three (and maybe up to five) separate fossils. These were cemented together by a farmer who thought the fossils would bring more money as one piece.

To be fair, few actual paleontologists were fooled by this hoax. The journals Nature and Science both refused to publish the paper because of the sketchy nature of the find. The paper describing this fossil was never published in a peer-reviewed journal, only in National Geographic.

Unfortunately, many more people read National Geographic than peer-reviewed journals. When National Geographic was fooled, so was much of the public.

In October, 2000, the journal issued a retraction based on evidence from a Chinese scientist’s investigation of Archaeorapter. This was a source of embarrassment for National Geographic for many years—all because they wanted to believe the missing link had been found.

What do you think? Why are so many people invested in finding a missing link between dinosaurs and birds? Even if a fossil was found which appeared to be an intermediary between dinos and birds, who could say God didn’t create that as a separate animal?

 

References: https://answersingenesis.org/dinosaurs/feathers/archaeoraptor-hoax-update-national-geographic-recants/, http://www.science20.com/between_death_and_data/5_greatest_palaeontology_hoaxes_all_time_3_archaeoraptor-79473

Could we live with dinosaurs?

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Tyrannosaurus size comparison
Other than the fright fest dreamed up by Michael Crichton (aka Jurassic Park), many people probably haven’t seriously considered the idea of whether we could have lived side by side with dinosaurs. Most scientists tell us this didn’t happen, so why think about it?

Why? Because those scientists could be wrong. Fossils of older humans are continually being found, pushing the accepted dates for human existence closer and closer to the time of the dinosaurs. As a creationist, I believe the Bible when it says humans and all other creatures (including dinosaurs) lived together when the earth was first created by God. Even if you don’t believe this, stick with me, because the idea of humans living with dinosaurs is so fun to think about that it made Michael Crichton millions.

How about we pretend it’s me (and my family) living with the dinosaurs? I know I might look like your average soccer mom, but I was a geologist, so I’ve got a heart for backwoods adventures, as well. Here are some issues I would face if I lived with dinosaurs.

  • Size difference (how to keep from getting crushed)

We’ve all seen the T-Rex in Jurassic Park walking away with a man stuck to the bottom of his foot. I’d try to avoid this if at all possible. In truth, if T-Rex steps on me it would be an accident. He doesn’t want to step on me (eat me, maybe, but not step on me).

Actually, there were many more sauropods (like Brachiosaurus or Apatosaurus) than there were T-Rexes and they were much bigger. Fortunately for me, they likely traveled in herds. A herd of sauropods would be easily heard (see what I did there) and therefore easily avoided.

Back to the T-Rex, now. If I had someplace safe to sleep, like a cave maybe, then T-Rex would only be an issue when I came out to hunt or gather plants. So definitely I would look for strong shelter. I might even construct an underground bunker. When I did venture outside, I think I could train myself to listen and feel for vibrations as a sign of an approaching T-Rex (remember the water shaking in the glass because of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park).

  • Carnivores (how to keep from getting eaten)

Like I said above, T-Rex might eat me, especially a juvenile one, however it would only be an act of opportunity. For a T-Rex, a human doesn’t carry much meat, even my 7 foot tall husband. The T-Rex’s natural prey was likely sauropods or ceratopsians (like Triceratops). A T-Rex killing a person is kind of like me killing a rabbit for food. I’ll do it if I have to and it’s available, but I’d rather have some nice deer meat. My theory is (and I’m glad I never have to test this out) that as long as I stay out of T-Rex’s way, he won’t bother with me.

Now what about Velociraptor? After all, it killed all those people in Jurassic Park. Yes, but the authors/filmmakers enhanced Velociraptor for the book and movie. It was actually the size of a large turkey. Dangerous, but not as deadly as you’d think. Utahraptor, on the other hand, was six feet tall, built similar to Velociraptor and topped out at 1,000 pounds. Not a creature I’d mess around with. As a predator, it probably had a large territory and hunted in packs. I’d make an effort to learn its habits and avoid the pack at all costs.

Also, I’d make sure I stayed out of open areas where I could be a target for other roaming predators. We’ve all seen the video of the lone zebra on the savannah taken down by the lightning fast cheetah. And I’d become an expert on evasion tactics. For instance, a modern elephant could outrun me in an open area, but not in the forest. It’s the same way that a rabbit can outrun a dog, even though a dog is faster. The rabbit makes turns that the dog can’t follow as a way of using the dog’s size against it.

The majority of dinosaurs were the size of a chicken or smaller, so they actually had more to fear from me. Most of the dinosaurs would have been my food, not the other way around.

  • Offspring (how to protect mine and avoid the big dinosaur ones)

One of the biggest threats to me and my family would be the juvenile form of the larger predators. A juvenile is still huge and would more likely see me as food than an adult. It’s possible I’d be able to hear a juvenile T-Rex approaching, especially if it hung out with its mom and dad for hunting lessons. Of course, any time I sensed danger, I’d want to conceal myself or head for the cave.

My kids would probably stay in the cave almost all the time to keep them safe (it’s okay, they already think I’m overprotective). And I’m sure we’d never venture out at night when we could stumble upon a predator by accident. The good news is, I’d probably teach them to throw a spear by age 5 (which my son would absolutely love).

The idea of me living with the dinosaurs and surviving might sound a little crazy, but we have evidence that ancient people lived in caves and hunted large game. Maybe not quite as large as dinosaurs, but mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and bison were not small animals. And some paleontologists believe we hunted these animals into extinction.

While our bodies might seem puny when compared with larger dinosaurs, God gave us the unique ability to think, reason and communicate far beyond any animal. And as the best books and movies show, our big brains can take us to some amazing places. I can’t walk with the dinosaurs any more, but if I had a time machine, I’d go back and get me a Velociraptor burger.

What do you think? Do you have any other ideas on how we could live with dinosaurs? If you had a time machine, would you go back for a day to see the dinosaurs or does that sound like the start of a horror movie to you?

 

Photo Credit: ID 25276660 © Sofia Santos | Dreamstime.com

Fun Science Fact

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Apatosaurus Reconstruction

ID 39333179 © Mr1805 | Dreamstime.com

Did you know there’s no such thing as a Brontosaurus any more?

Really. Fred Flintstone actually worked on top of an Apatosaurus.

Why then do we all know the name Brontosaurus?

It all goes back to the late 1800’s when two paleontologists from different universities, O.C. Marsh and Edward Cope, were trying to make names for themselves. They competed against each other to unearth new fossil finds. At this time, Marsh discovered the fossilized body of an Apatosaurus with no head. He named it and published a reconstruction of it with a different skull on the body.

Two years later, Marsh’s field workers sent him another Apatosaurus skeleton (this one with a head) that he mistook for a new type of dinosaur. He named it Brontosaurus. In his rush, to beat Cope, Marsh gave the poor Apatosaurus an identity crisis which has lasted ever since.

Although the mistake was noticed by the early 1900’s, museums were slow to do away with the Brontosaurus and even slower to put the correct skull on Apatosaurus. In fact, the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburg had the wrong head on Apatosaurus up until the 1970’s. Can you imagine the identity issues involved in wearing the wrong head for eighty years (sounds like a bad soap opera plot, doesn’t it)?

Even so, kids everywhere still love the name Brontosaurus. I wonder if they could re-use it the next time they find a new sauropod dinosaur?

Reference: http://www.npr.org/2012/12/09/166665795/forget-extinct-the-brontosaurus-never-even-existed

 

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