The genetic leap between lunch and giant lizard is closer than you thought. In the October issue of Wired, paleontologist Jack Horner, curator at the Museum of the Rockies — he also was a technical advisor on “Jurassic Park” — postulates that the easiest way to bring dinosaurs back to life is by reverse-evolving a run-of-the-mill rooster. Evidence suggests that today’s birds are descendants of those long-ago dinosaurs. And sometimes, hints of long-extinct creatures pop up in their modern descendants. Horner thinks that by manipulating embryos, biologists might eventually be able to flip on enough long-forgotten genes to nudge a chicken into a teeny-tiny velociraptor. Not that it will be easy. Matthew Harris, a Harvard Medical School professor, told the magazine that restoring a chicken’s teeth is one thing, but making its chompers strong enough to tear flesh would take some extra tinkering, since the gene for enamel is missing in that bird’s genome. Chickenosaurus would have Austin Powers’s smile.
In his new book, NPR blogger and University of Rochester astrophysics professor Adam Frank explains how our experience of time has been repeatedly rejiggered throughout the millennia. Archaeological evidence of ancient lifestyles and routines indicates that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers “lived through time as an unbroken whole,” he writes. But once humans settled down to farm, that changed. “The farmer lived within a time marked by daily rounds of animal husbandry, home maintenance, and village life.” Then came the clock, then the industrial punch clock and then synchronized time, which further altered how human beings perceived, used and organized the moments of a day. All the while, these changing notions of time altered how people understood the cosmos. Theories about the beginning of time gradually shifted from a mythological Eden to the universe-generating big bang. Frank ponders fresh ideas in cosmology, such as string theory and the multi-verse, and how the human perception of time will change in the future.