Dinosaur DNA is the same as modern birds, according to a new study.
Scientists have revealed that ancient reptiles may have come in such different shapes and sizes because their genetic code had ‘a large number’ of chromosomes.
This diversity helped them evolve quickly to changing climates, allowing them to dominate the planet for around 180 million years.
Using DNA from modern-day turtles and birds, researchers were able to piece together the history of DNA back more than 255 million years.
Scientists believe the way their DNA was organised may have provided dinosaurs with a ‘blueprint for evolutionary success’.
This is because dinosaurs would have had around 80 chromosomes in total, like modern birds, which are the descendants of the ancient reptiles.
For comparison, humans have 23 chromosome pairs – for a total of 46.
Despite unlocking the pattern of dinosaur DNA, scientists say they have no plans to use the information to recreate the ancient beasts, like in Jurassic Park.
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Tyrannosaurus DNA would have been the same as modern birds, according to a new study. Scientists have revealed that dinosaurs may have come in such different shapes and sizes because their genetic code had a large number of chromosomes (stock image)
Dinosaurs ruled Earth from some 179 million years, before suddenly being wiped out in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event around around 66 million years ago.
Researchers led by Professor Darren Griffin of the University of Kent’s School of Biosciences recreated what the genome structure of dinosaurs, like the Tyrannosaurus, would have looked like under the microscope.
To recreate this long-extinct genetic code, the researchers traced how chromosomes changed over evolutionary time, from reptile ancestors to the present day.
The research, which is published in the journal Nature Communications, involved extrapolating the likely genome structure of a shared common ancestor of birds and turtles that lived around 260 million years ago.
This was around 20 million years before the first dinosaurs started to emerge.
Researchers now believe dinosaurs had around 40 pairs of chromosomes.
This is the same as modern birds, but almost twice the number found in a humans.
‘We think it generates variation.
‘Having a lot of chromosomes enables dinosaurs to shuffle their genes around much more than other types of animals’, Professor Griffin told BBC.
Using DNA from modern-day turtles and birds, researchers were able to piece together the history of DNA dating back 255 million years (stock image)
The research, which is published in the journal Nature Communications, involved extrapolating the likely genome structure of a shared common ancestor of birds and turtles (stock image) that lived around 260 million years ago
‘This shuffling means that dinosaurs can evolve more quickly and so help them survive so long as the planet changed,’ he said.
Scientists say the latest research reinforces the long-held idea that birds and dinosaurs are one of the same.
However, according to Professor Griffin, we’re ‘not gong to have Jurassic Park anytime soon’.
Genetic material degrades over time and the longest it has ever survived is one million years – still some 65 million years before the dinosaurs perished.
Although scientists have mathematically predicted the structure of dinosaur’s genetic code, they are unable to completely recreate the DNA needed to create one of the ancient reptiles today.
In February, it was revealed dinosaurs were so successful they may have contributed to their own demise.
The rapid expansion of the huge reptiles across the globe meant they were running out of space on Earth long before they went extinct, a study concluded.
Scientists believe that the way DNA was organised may have provided dinosaurs with a ‘blueprint for evolutionary success’. However, they say they have no plans to recreate a Jurassic Park scenario (pictured)
WHY DID THE DINOSAURS GO EXTINCT?
Dinosaurs ruled and dominated Earth around 66 million years ago, before they suddenly went extinct.
The Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event is the name given to this mass extinction.
It was believed for many years that the changing climate destroyed the food chain of the huge reptiles.
In the 1980s, archaeologists discovered a layer of iridium.
This is an element that is rare on Earth but is found in vast quantities in space.
When this was dated, it coincided precisely with when the dinosaurs disappeared from the fossil record.
A decade later, scientists uncovered the massive Chicxulub Crater at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, which dates to the period in question.
Scientific consensus now says that these two factors are linked and they were both probably caused by an enormous asteroid crashing to Earth.
With the projected size and impact velocity, the collision would have caused an enormous shock-wave and likely triggered seismic activity.
The fallout would have created plumes of ash that likely covered all of the planet and made it impossible for dinosaurs to survive.
Other animals and plant species had a shorter time-span between generations which allowed them to survive.
There are several other theories as to what caused the demise of the famous animals.
One early theory was that small mammals ate dinosaur eggs and another proposes that toxic angiosperms (flowering plants) killed them off.
Researchers suggest dinosaurs were already in decline long before the killer asteroid hit 65 million years ago because they had clogged up every possible habitat on Earth.
This seriously impeded their ability to produce new species, which left them vulnerable to extinction, researchers at the University of Reading found.
Fossil evidence shows dinosaurs originated in the late Triassic Period around 230 million years ago in South America, when the continent was part of the huge land mass called Pangea.
The origin of enormous reptiles closely followed the world’s largest extinction event, known as the Great Dying.
The event killed roughly nine in 10 marine species and seven in 10 land species, creating a ‘blank canvas’ for the rise of the dinosaurs, researchers said.
During the next 150 million years a diverse range of dinosaur species evolved, from the Tyrannosaurus rex to the gigantic, long necked Diplodocus.
But after rapidly expanding across the globe from South America, the reptiles were unable to adapt as land ran out, scientists found.