August 3, 2016 by Jon Tennant, Plos Blogs
Over the last 20 years, there has grown insurmountable evidence that birds are the direct modern descendants of dinosaurs. Eagles are dinosaurs. Pigeons are dinosaurs, annoyingly. Even penguins are weird, swimming dinosaurs.
The data supporting this comes from a whole range of scientific domains, from the discovery of thousands of feathered dinosaurs in the fossil record to chemical and biological analysis of these fossils at a molecular level. As science progresses in terms of technical capability, what we can glean from the fossil record increases too, and we learn more about the link between dinosaurs and birds.
A hugely advancing research field at the moment is in embryonics and genetics. What does this have to do with dinosaurs, you might ask (don't even think about mentioning Jurassic Park..) Well, it's a good point. We don't have any dinosaur DNA, and we have very few fossilised embryos. But wait! If modern birds are dinosaurs, then that means we actually have a lot of dinosaur DNA and their embryos! This means we can start asking a whole range of new questions about the evolution and origins of birds from dinosaurs.
Recently, an international team of researchers took on the task at looking at developmental links between dinosaurs and modern birds. There is an old and quite controversial saying that 'ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny', which means that the growth or development of an individual can be a reflection of the evolution that has occurred along its lineage. Wouldn't it be cool if we could see that in birds and their dinosaur ancestors?