Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientist says ostrich study confirms bird ’hands’ unlike those of dinosaurs

15.08.2002


To make an omelet, you need to break some eggs. Not nearly so well known is that breaking eggs also can lead to new information about the evolution of birds and dinosaurs, a topic of hot debate among leading biologists.



Drs. Alan Feduccia and Julie Nowicki of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have done just that. They opened a series of live ostrich eggs at various stages of development and found what they believe is proof that birds could not have descended from dinosaurs. They also discovered the first concrete evidence of a thumb in birds.

"Whatever the ancestor of birds was, it must have had five fingers, not the three-fingered hand of theropod dinosaurs," Feduccia said. "Scientists agree that dinosaurs developed ’hands’ with digits one, two and three -- which are the same as the thumb, index and middle fingers of humans -- because digits four and five remain as vestiges or tiny bumps on early dinosaur skeletons. Apparently many dinosaurs developed very specialized, almost unique ’hands’ for grasping and raking. "Our studies of ostrich embryos, however, showed conclusively that in birds, only digits two, three and four, which correspond to the human index, middle and ring fingers, develop, and we have pictures to prove it," said Feduccia, professor and former chair of biology at UNC. "This creates a new problem for those who insist that dinosaurs were ancestors of modern birds. How can a bird hand, for example, with digits two, three and four evolve from a dinosaur hand that has only digits one, two and three? That would be almost impossible."


A report on their investigations will appear online in the August issue of Naturwissenschaften, the top German biology journal, and soon afterwards in the print edition.

The new work involved microscopic examination of early skeletal development in ostrich embryos, he said. Nowicki, who received her doctorate in biology at UNC last year, and he found the critical period for major features of the skeletons of primitive birds like ostriches to appear occurred between days 8 and 15 of those birds’ 42-day growth inside eggs.

The beginnings of arm bones and "fingers" begin to appear around day 8, Feduccia said. Those that would grow into the animals’ thumbs, however, appear around day 14 and later disappear by about day 17.

"Because most such studies in birds have relied on embryos in the second half of development, usually at or near hatching, these studies have therefore used embryos that exhibit the form of fully developed chicks and have generated misleading results," he said. "Questions about development of bird hands were first addressed in 1821 by the famous German physician and anatomist Johann Friedrich Meckel for whom the cartilage of the lower jaw was named. But no one has produced convincing evidence for a thumb before. For us, this is very exciting."

The UNC evolutionary biologist has been a strong critic of the belief that dinosaurs gave rise to birds as some paleontologists have claimed since the 1970s. He also has been a major figure in the debate for 30 years.

"There are insurmountable problems with that theory," he said. "Beyond what we have just reported, there is the time problem in that superficially bird-like dinosaurs occurred some 25 million to 80 million years after the earliest known bird, which is 150 million years old."

Most of the bird-like dinosaurs were "looking at the meteor some 65 million years ago," he said, a reference to the giant meteor believed to have struck the Earth then and killed off all dinosaurs within a short time.

If one views a chicken skeleton and a dinosaur skeleton through binoculars they appear similar, but close and detailed examination reveals many differences, Feduccia said. Theropod dinosaurs, for example, had curved, serrated teeth, but the earliest birds had straight, unserrated peg-like teeth. They also had a different method of tooth implantation and replacement.

Findings from careful examinations of alligator and turtle embryos were consistent with those of birds, the scientist added.

Far more likely is that birds and dinosaurs had a much older common ancestor, he said. Many superficial similarities between birds and dinosaurs arose because both groups developed body designs for walking upright on two hind legs and began to resemble each other over millions of years. "It is now clear that the origin of birds is a much more complicated question than has been previously thought," Feduccia said.


###
Note: Feduccia can be reached at (252)-438-6545 (late mornings or late afternoons) Aug. 15th and 16th. Next week: (919)962-3050; home: 919-942-3377 or feduccia@bio.unc.edu for a photograph of the. embryo.

By DAVID WILLIAMSON
UNC News Services

Deb Saine | EurekAlert!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Cancer diagnosis: no more needles?
25.05.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found
25.05.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Alternsforschung - Fritz-Lipmann-Institut e.V. (FLI)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>